Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Iowa! (Part 2)

Back today as promised! I got to watch the last 100 laps of the IndyCar race, as well as the last 50 laps of the Indy Lights race, so I have a little more perspective to offer. For the amount of material out there from Iowa I could probably go to a third post, the weekend was that good!

The Ed/Sage incident -- Watching it in person, I thought Ed blew the whole thing out of proportion and that it was just hard racing. And after seeing the replay I stand by that opinion. While I thought Sage took a couple of unnecessary chances, I still think Ed could've handled it much differently. At no point in their racing each other did I think either drivers health or life was in danger.

Screaming on the radio for a penalty, launching into a profanity-laced rant on pit road and then running straight to Race Control is flat-out bush league. Then to treat Sage like crap on the plane ride home was just childish.

Lots of people in and around IndyCar say Ed's a nice guy, but all I see is a hothead who goes off when the racing isn't done on his terms. And let's call a spade a spade -- Ed's a Hulman, he's never, ever sat in a race car with the bottom line being he needed to win a race or have a good result to keep his career going. That's where Sage is at, and he is been in that situation many times in the past as well. While I know that everyone who races at that level has worked hard to get there, it's not as easy for some as others.

I can relate to Sage a little. Growing up there was a time my family didn't have a lot of money, and on top of that I was teased and bullied a lot. When I got onto equal footing with these same people (mainly a court or ballfield), I played them hard. Be it a pickup game, practice or the real thing, I only really had one speed because I felt I always had something to prove. Some people didn't appreciate that, but I felt that was what I needed to do in order to compete, and, yes, win. I grew out of that as time went on, and am certainly not proud of some of my actions, but I won't apologize for it, either. Neither should Sage.

Bottom line, Ed Carpenter is a veteran driver and, more importantly, a car owner, and I think he needs to conduct himself in a more professional manner. It's obvious that Sage needs direction and coaching -- while I thought his driving for the most part was brilliant Saturday night, he has been a hazard to himself and others at other points during the season -- and it's up to the experienced drivers to help him.

The kid is only 20 years old, and young drivers at the highest levels tend to tear up a lot of equipment. Like Paul his first ride for Roger Penske at Michigan in 1991, he destroyed a car and broke his leg, and in his first 20 IndyCar starts he crashed out six times! I once read back in the day that PT's repair bill for the 1992 season was over $2 million. PT never lost his edge as a driver, but he certainly smoothed out the rough edges and became an absolute beast. Can Sage do the same thing? I hope so, he's a cool guy with a great backstory that we need more of in IndyCar racing.

Another one-day show -- I mentioned last week after Milwaukee that I thought the one-day aspect of the event led to an uptick in attendance, and given the crowd at Iowa on Saturday night I think that having qualifying and support races along with the main event made for more people in the seats.

It doesn't matter the situation, people want to feel like they get the most for their money. There was certainly a lot to see and do on Saturday, and everyone I encountered seemed pretty happy with their experience. On Saturday afternoon I found out my friend Kevin was at the race as the guest as a vendor, and during one of the cautions came up and hung out with us for a while.

Although he once came to the 500 with me, he isn't an IndyCar fan, but he said he was having a great time and was really into the race. Iowa is always a good show, and is a gorgeous place to be at night in the summer.

Montoya -- JPM's crash was a bit of a shock to me. I wasn't following him specifically, but he was in my field of vision and when his car pancaked the wall my first thought was: "Wait, did that really just happen?"

Can't do anything about equipment failures, and as the night went on, he wasn't the only one to have that problem as Turn 2 jumped up and bit several drivers. But what could've been a turnaround night for the rest of the field didn't lead to much as Helio Castroneves went backwards the last half of the race and Scott Dixon had mechanical problems as well, just as it seemed like he had gotten a good car underneath him.

In a short season, a driver has to count his lucky stars if he gets a "mulligan", and JPM definitely got one on Saturday night. He had a disastrous result and no one was able to take advantage, at least as far as he was concerned. Like I said last week, that's the kind of luck you need in your corner if you want to win a championship.

Rule 9.3.8 -- I was going to dedicate a full post to this but in the end think it is so insignificant that it doesn't deserve one.

IndyCar jumped the shark here, everyone lost their shit, put on their Fonzie jacket and skis and jumped into oblivion.

And no, I'm not talking about the series, I'm talking about the people on social media who absolutely went off the deep end about this. We should've seen this coming after Fontana, when the drivers said way too much after the race and were way too critical of the series, which they have been for as long as I remember.

You can read the deets here.

People, the sky isn't falling here. I don't see where anyone could possibly believe that the drivers, owners, etc. constantly airing their dirty laundry in the media does an ounce of good for the series. Plus, rule No. 1 is that you never criticize management. Let's be honest, IndyCar has one of the most negative and anti-management fanbase in all of sports, and most, if not all, of the reasons for that lie in the fact that everyone and anyone can criticize them without fear of repercussion. I feel that much of the damage done to the reputation of the series has been the constant sniping over the bow in the press between the powers that be, and also has created an Us vs. Them mentality that keeps things from getting done.

And, as my PR wife has told me before, it's important to do two things 1) control the message and 2) stay in front of the story. Any organization is smart in controlling the message, that's why these rules exist.

Besides, these kinds of rules exist in every sports league in the world. Here is one from the NBA Constitution and bylaws, section 35:

(c) If in the opinion of the Commissioner any act or conduct of a Player at or during an Exhibition, Regular Season, or Playoff Game has been prejudicial to or against the best interests of the Association or the game of basketball, the Commissioner shall impose upon such Player a fine not exceeding $50,000, or may order for a time the suspension of any such Player from any connection or duties with Exhibition, Regular Season, or Playoff Games, or he may order both such fine and suspension.
(d) The Commissioner shall have the power to suspend for a definite or indefinite period, or to impose a fine not exceeding $50,000, or inflict both such suspension and fine upon any Player who, in his opinion, (i) shall have made or caused to be made any statement having, or that was designed to have, an effect prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of basketball or of the Association or of a Member, or (ii) shall have been guilty of conduct that does not conform to standards of morality or fair play, that does not comply at all times with all federal, state, and local laws, or that is prejudicial or
detrimental to the Association. 

There is also a section 35A which discusses the behavior of non-player personnel, like Mark Cuban, for example. In researching a potential post, I discovered that Major League Baseball has the same kind of language in their by-laws (in fact, being ejected from a game carries an automatic fine). Oh yeah, and my HR handbook has something in it as well.

Like always, people are thinking that they are trying to take the passion and excitement from the sport. I say, far from it. Drivers will still be able to express what they think, so long as they don't cross a certain line. I hope the drivers act like adults the rest of the season and continue to say what they do, and if they get fined for it, so be it. Then again, many in this group of will just stop talking to the media altogether, and they will get a lot of support for that. Which sucks.

I get drivers have concerns, and I fully agree with and support their desire to express their opinions, whether it be about safety, the series, sponsors...whatever. However, take the proper channels and do it the right way that is done in a positive manner for what helps everyone get on the same page and keep things moving forward.

I have been a part of the sports media for 15 years and I can guarantee not a single story I have written where one side criticizes the other has caused the side being criticized to act in a way the critical party wants them to. It doesn't happen. As I said about Robin Miller...Mark Miles seems like a reasonable individual. If someone wants the story, why don't they just call up Miles' admin and schedule a time to swing by and talk? 

One other criticism I want to address...people say the drivers go to the series about safety issues and the series doesn't listen. My answer to that? Other than James Hinchcliffe's freak accident in May, how many accidents this season, no matter how violent, has the driver jumped out of the car and walked away?

The answer: all of them. Seems to me they are paying attention. 

OK, I'm done with that rant. Bottom line is that I don't understand how anyone feels like it is a positive thing for the drivers to be constantly harping on the series. At some point these guys just need to drive, and let everyone take care of what they are good at. Because despite what everyone wants to believe, if you look at attendance, revenues, sponsorship and TV numbers, the people taking care of that end are doing a pretty good job. Maybe they aren't doing things the way some want them to or in the timetable they want them to, but if you don't think the series is on better footing now than three years ago, you are delusional.

As I said to Patti Nolen at the Milwaukee race -- if the fanbase of any sport, not to mention the drivers or owners, were responsible for running their sport or series, it would be bankrupt by mid-season. Oh wait, didn't the owners already bankrupt a series before? Maybe it is a good thing when the grown-ups take over.

Monday, July 20, 2015


As longtime readers of this site know, I add the exclamation point to the title of the Iowa race given the long history my family has in the state, and how cool it is to be a part of that heritage. I was born in Davenport and while I only called Iowa home for five years, my family's lineage in the state goes back well over a century, so it will always be a special place for me.

And we can throw a few exclamation points out there for it being such a great race! With the weather being so nice and other races on the slate (more on that later), lots of people showed up and made it for a great environment. I love this racetrack for a lot of reasons, and it was in full song on Saturday in a lot of ways.

I have so much to talk about, I'm splitting this post into two entries, with the second coming tomorrow. We've got lots to cover, don't we? Let's spend today talking about the Top 10 and rock the hot takes tomorrow.

Winner -- Ryan Hunter-Reay. Or I could also say...Andretti Autosport, which put a driver in Victory Lane for the SIXTH straight year, with RHR making it two straight and three overall. Hunter-Reay never got to the point all race until he beat Josef Newgarden out of the pits with 37 laps to go and held off the field in a couple of late restarts. The victory breaks a 13-month string without a win and is just the third Top 5 in that span. It's just been a lost season for him, but it's a good way to start building up for 2016.

Runner-up -- Josef Newgarden. For the second straight week, Newgarden was the class of the field but came away empty in search of his first oval victory in the IndyCar Series. He now is first in the series in laps led on the season and is moving his career into beast mode.

Third place -- Sage Karam. Lots has been said about Sage's aggressive driving (more on that later as well) but overall I thought he did a fantastic job on a track that he'd never raced an IndyCar on before. Did he get a little loose at the end? Sure, but I'd rather see a guy go after it than say after the race they had a "fifth or sixth-place car". He's 20, and is racing in a way he sees fit to continue his racing career. The racing world is full of great drivers who tore up a bunch of equipment at the beginning of their careers. He's no different.

Fourth place -- Graham Rahal. Probably the drive of the night, in my opinion. A screwed up gearbox that couldn't get out of sixth gear might have been the least of his problems as he lost two laps early to another issue. Once he was back on the lead lap -- and then when he took tires during the last caution period -- Graham was an absolute rocket. It was crazy to see the way he overtook and put away cars when he had the new set of kicks on at the end of the race. Oh, and by the way, look who is second in points?!?!?

Fifth pace -- Carlos Munoz. It's an oval, and one that AA has had success...sound familiar? Contrary to his road racing roots, Carlos loves fast ovals where he can drive hard and take chances. And it seems like the faster the track, the more that attitude works for him.

So outside of RHR, can we call the rest of the Top 5 "The Future"? There was some serious young talent at the front of the field Saturday night. I could get used to about you?

Sixth place -- Ed Carpenter. Once again, Ed distracts people from a well-driven race thanks to another post-race hissy (more on that later too). I understand heat-of-the-moment things, but personally I find the need to confront someone every time you think you are done wrong completely unprofessional. It makes for good theater if you are the type of person who needs drama to be a racing fan, but to me it comes across as a total "Born on Third" mentality from someone who should know to conduct himself better.

Seventh place -- Marco Andretti. Marco took tires late and I thought he would follow Graham to the front, but his charge fizzled out fairly quickly. Still, I am really impressed with Marco and his consistency this season. He is still the only driver who has completed every lap this year and with some good luck he could finish the season in the Top 5 in points. After all, he's only 45 points behind second place Rahal.

Eighth place -- Ryan Briscoe. After seeing his last two races end with his car on a hook and having to call his wife from the infield care center, an event-free evening was what Briscoe really needed. I'm not sure if he is in the car for the last three races -- someone help me out here -- but if he is he has podium finishes at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma in the past, and could be another guy who could finish the season on a positive note.

Ninth place -- Sebastien Bourdais. Started 24th and finished ninth is all you need to know about Seb's drive. The biggest mover in the field -- again -- he was just too far back and the pit strategy didn't fall into place the way they needed it to. Still, Bourdais has done some impressive work on the ovals the last few weeks.

Tenth place -- Will Power. Really? The best a Penske car could do Saturday night was 10th? After qualifying all four cars in the top six positions, EVERYBODY on that team went backwards from the drop, starting with points leader Juan Pablo Montoya having a suspension failure and smacking the wall just 10 laps in. Helio Castroneves finished 11th and Simon Pagenaud finished 14th.

Speaking of JPM -- His DFL could've delivered a huge blow to his championship hopes, but Scott Dixon, who at the start of the night was second in points, had a mechanical issue that left him 37 laps down at the end. That meant Dixon only got six points closer, so Juan dodged a huge bullet as Rahal is now in second but 42 points back.

Justin Wilson -- I'm starting to figure out, or at least developing a theory, as to why Michael Andretti put him in a completely unsponsored car for the last few races, and possibly the rest of the season. Wilson has long had a reputation as a fantastic test driver, so if a team is looking ahead to 2016, wouldn't it make sense to put a guy like him in the car and let him help you figure stuff out? Though he has had some bad luck in each of the last two races, when Wilson has been on he has been fantastic in race trim.

OK, so we're halfway there for this week. Look for part two sometime tomorrow!

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Wild Day at The Mile

Finally getting home and digesting the race a little bit, and let me first say, that was one of the crazier races I've seen in quite some time!

(Editor's note: If you scroll down on this blog you will see that I have made a couple of editing changes. I've had a change of heart -- I love IndyCar and love this little blog too much to let it go. Sorry for the drama, although I still think Robin Miller is a clown and I will be hitting the "unfollow" button on Twitter a lot in the coming days and weeks.)

But anyway, there were advantages and disadvantages to being at The Mile on Sunday. The advantage was that there was a lot of good racing that hopefully those of you who watched it on TV got to see some of (the race is on my DVR, I'll watch it tomorrow night), but the disadvantage was that there were so many crazy strategies going on it was a little hard to keep track of who was coming and who was going!

Lots of big name and big team drivers spent the day riding around in the midfield until several made some hay in the final 50 laps. Most of that was due to taking tires after the final yellow when Justin Wilson's motor expired with 27 laps to go, as 10 teams laid out four fresh Firestones and took a gamble that paid off.

Either way, Sebastian Bourdais drove one hell of a race. In the era that we currently reside, it's so rare to see one car and driver just absolutely demolish a field like SeaBass did on Sunday. The last yellow just made the race look closer than it actually was. Kind of like how a football team is down 42-14 with five minutes to go and scores a couple of late touchdowns to make it look respectable.

So let's go through the Top 10 and a few other things:

Winner -- Sebastian Bourdais. Seb channeled his Champ Car form on Sunday, and while I normally don't like it when one driver (or in this case, two, but more on that later) dominates a race, when someone puts on a performance this special, it's really a lot of fun. Seb could do pretty much whatever he wanted over the final half of the race, and I will be interested to see how many cars he passed on track, because every time I looked at him it seemed like he was going around someone.

This was his first win on an oval since he came back to IndyCar, and a good win for a good guy. A few years ago, do you think we would've said that? But seriously, he's really one of the good guys of the series.

2nd place -- Helio Castroneves. Kevin and I were listening to qualifying as we were driving up and I was a little shocked to hear of the snafu that Team Penske pulled off to send Helio to the back of the field. Last to second is a pretty good drive, don't you think? I feel like these next two weeks are crucial to the championship hunt...anything can happen on short tracks, and with Iowa and Pocono the only remaining ovals, things can change in a hurry.

3rd place -- Graham Rahal. This has gone on long enough to say that Graham is -- finally -- for real. Now sitting third in points, GH is having a breakout year and driving with a ton of confidence. Of course, there was some whining about him on Twitter, because everyone likes to whine about him on Twitter, but let's be honest, he's putting up results.

4th place -- Juan Pablo Montoya. JPM was one of those who seem to spend a lot of the day running around in 10th place or so but was able to end up with a respectable finish. Which given the points implications was huge. While the day didn't always totally go his way, he leaves MKE with a bigger lead over Scott Dixon than when they arrived this weekend, and right now that's all he really needs to worry about.

5th place -- Josef Newgarden. I think the bar has officially been raised for Josef, because I felt like with the car he had that his result should've been better. Winning the pole and dominating the first half of the race, and eventually leading 109 laps, he is officially moved into badass territory and is now on the short list of guys who can be considered a contender week in and week out.

6th place -- Tony Kanaan. Just a really quiet day for TK. I was a little surprised to see he only led three laps given he had one of the more uneventful days in the field and mostly ran near the front, but it was a pretty workman-like day overall for TK. Look for him to be super motivated at Iowa on Saturday night -- he dominated last year's race only to have it pretty much stolen from him at the end.

7th place -- Scott Dixon. Another guy who hung out in the middle of the field for most of the day, and the argument can be made that 7th place still is the middle of the field. He's 54 points behind Montoya for the championship, and finishing ahead of JPM -- preferably way ahead -- from here on out has to be his priority.

8th place -- Marco Andretti. See Dixon, Scott. Marco is in the hunt a lot more than he used to be, especially on ovals, but needs to put it all together one of these days and get the monkey off his back that Graham Rahal handed him a couple of weeks ago. Marco is the only driver to have completed every lap this season, which to me lends a lot to his maturation process.

9th place -- Simon Pagenaud. Simon's improvement of eight spots over his starting position was third best in the field behind Castroneves (22 places) and Bourdais (10) but he didn't have as much fun as those guys did. He's going the wrong way in the standings and needs to fix that fast.

10th place -- Ed Carpenter. This is where I get a bit brutal for a minute. For a guy whose sole focus is ovals, he has been awful this season, and I'm beginning to wonder where his head's at. For the record, I think he is a fantastic owner, and will win the Indy 500 in that capacity someday. But as a driver he fails to take any accountability for his on-track actions, something that if one of his employees did I'm guessing he wouldn't tolerate. I also think he showed very little class and sportsmanship early in the race, when he was near DFL and Newgarden pulled up to put him a lap down. He held Newgarden, his teammate, up for close to 15 laps, which allowed Ryan Briscoe to keep Josef in his sights.

I'm all for battling to stay on the lead lap, but when you fall a mile behind just 12-13 miles into the race, you get the hell out of the way and figure it out. Your problems aren't their problems.

18th place -- Justin Wilson. I'm adding a couple of names to this list as notables, and Wilson is one of them. I thought he drove a fantastic race yesterday until his mechanical issues (and a long pit stop) at the end.

22nd place -- Will Power. The champ's title defense took a huge hit (as did the SAFER barrier, as you can see in the photo) when Briscoe spun out ahead of him on Lap 131. He's now 70 points behind Montoya, and while he's been known to make up points in a hurry --  as he's done in years' past -- Montoya is a little too good to make stupid mistakes to let him back into it. After everything going his way last year, the luck has turned a little, which shows how  many things need to go right to win a title.

One day show -- The qualify/race in one day idea is something I've floated in this space before, and I think it led to the improved attendance at the race. Good weather helped too. It's simple: people want their money's worth, and if you give them more activities to watch, they will make it worth their while to go. I know the team's hate it, but when you are begging for fans you give them what they want.

Track walk -- Another cool item this year was the chance for fans to walk the track after the race, and a couple hundred of us took advantage. Walking the track was both fun and historic for me, and it should be a staple at oval tracks during the season. Props also go out to Takuma Sato, who came over and spent several minutes signing autographs for fans.

Hinch -- It was good to see The Mayor at the track again, and as you can tell by this photo with Kevin, appears to be in very good form. He was in a hurry to get somewhere but was nice enough to stop and pose. I asked him how he felt (over the roar of the Indy Lights race) and he gave me a huge nod and a thumbs up. Awesome.

Can The Mile be saved? -- After every Milwaukee race, the speculation arises as to whether or not enough had been done to bring the race back another year. My answer is: I sure hope so!

It's a favorite track with the drivers and it has so much history that it would be missed by a lot of people if it weren't on the schedule. Having now gone to the race the last four years, I've seen the crowds grow and the infield become busier with more people, activity and sponsor activation. It would be such a shame to see it go away now.