Sunday, May 20, 2018

Bump Day Thoughts

The return of Bump Day was a little more interesting than we thought, wasn't it?

When the 34th and 35th entries were announced a couple of months ago, making bumping possible for the first time in a while, I wasn't all that enthused. I thought it would just be a couple of one-off or back-marker cars going at it at the end, and when the day was over it would all be pretty much a ho-hum affair.

I'm not saying that to demean any of the drivers or teams that put everything on the line yesterday. If there were 35 entries a year ago, I would've been in the thick of Bump Day as part of Buddy Lazier's team. I know how hard everyone works to get a car onto the track, I just didn't think Bump Day would be the excitement needle-mover a lot of other people thought it would be.

In quick summary, I was wrong. When 5 p.m. rolled around Saturday and things had shaken out, we had three of the most popular drivers in IndyCar fighting it out for two spots.

Yep. Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann were our bumping candidates. Amazing.

Conor later put himself solid in the field with an incredibly ballsy run, and then there were two.

High drama ensued. Pippa couldn't find speed, Hinch went out and had to come right back in due to a vibration, and Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal added to the fray when they decided to run back out to try and improve their times.

When 5:50 rolled around, Pippa was on her final run and Hinch was left sitting next in line. We all know how it ended up.


Like all of you, I was pretty gutted by the end result, but it was also some of the most thrilling theater I've seen at Indy qualifying in a long time. This was 1995-type stuff. You know, the year Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi didn't make the field.

My stomach hurt during those final 30 minutes, and afterwards I needed to decompress a little bit. It was that incredible.

It was everything all of us had waited for, and what we had wanted. Bumping was back!

The problem is, this is 2018. Thanks to social media, no one goes quietly in 2018. While Pippa and Hinch handled themselves with as much grace as possible given the circumstances, the rest of the racing world melted down.

Indy Star racing writer Jim Ayello called it a "mess". Whatever, dude. Turn your tape recorder off.

Other people decried the fact that qualifying ended at 5:50 instead of its "traditional" 6 p.m. Forget the fact that 5:50 had been the finishing time since at least 2014. Others blamed Rossi and Rahal for going out and burning time with their futile efforts. And finally, people blamed Mann for repeatedly going out when it was clear she didn't have the speed to bump James Davison.

People, it's time to give this all a rest. While you may not agree with the end result, it was all done fair and square and within the rules.

I'm going to sound like a soon-to-be-49-year-old man yelling at a cloud, but one thing I dislike about a current trend in our society is that if the outcome isn't what you wanted it to be, something wasn't "fair" or that rules need to be changed.

I know I'm a traditionalist when I say this, but racing is still a competition. Somehow over the years we were given the impression that it was entertainment, which is part of the package of course. But in the end, it's people competing with one another.

The end result should be that we as fans are entertained, but the rules shouldn't be shaped in a way to fit it to exactly what we want it to be. I know I'm in the minority here, but it's not about us! We go to races to be entertained, but at its core we are just people showing up to watch other people compete.

That's sports!

The drivers and teams went into the day knowing what the rules were, and those rules were followed with integrity. As a result, we should accept the outcome. The two participants most affected are somehow able to do that, why aren't we?

It makes me think back to the 2000 Super Bowl, when Rams linebacker Mike Jones stopped The Titans' Kevin Dyson one yard short of the end zone on the game's final play.

I didn't hear any outcry that the Rams should have gotten one more play, I didn't hear people complaining that a football game is 60 minutes long, or that the rules needed to be changed to "fix" it for next year. Time ran out, the game ended. Rams win.

That's exactly what happened yesterday. Time ran out. While the delays for rain didn't help matters, the fact is that the rules stated and end time to qualifying, and when time was up we had our 33 qualifiers. If you didn't want to be one of the two cars left on the outside looking in, the remedy was simple.

Go faster.

I'm going to be honest, I didn't like the end result. Hinch is one of my favorite drivers, and I know Pippa personally and know the passion she has for the 500. I'm gutted for them. It will be hard to watch the race next week if they aren't in the field.

I imagine business decisions will be made and one -- or both -- of them will be racing next Sunday. Even if that doesn't happen, and even if they are two of my favorite drivers, I still accept what happened yesterday, because that's competition.

I get the idea that it's not 1995 and sponsorship money is harder to come by, but that isn't any reason to change the rules. It's not a reason to expand the field, and it isn't a reason to lock in all of the full-time entries.

It's competition, and at the top levels of professional competition, it's hard. I've seen that firsthand following professional baseball for the last 18 years. It's so hard.

Then again, it's supposed to be. If the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the greatest track in the world, and the Indianapolis 500 is the fastest and most prestigious race in the world, it should be the hardest thing these drivers have ever done.

It should be hard to go 230 mph, it should be hard to qualify, and the hardest thing should be to win the race. There should be winners, and there should be losers. The people who participate in this sport aren't 12-year-old kids, and they shouldn't be treated that way.

What happened yesterday didn't create a "mess". What happened yesterday was competition. The "mess" would occur if IndyCar changed the rules and let 35 cars run, or made other rule changes to accommodate the bumped drivers.

No, yesterday wasn't a "mess". It was crazy, it was dramatic, and it was everything good about sports and competition.

On other words, it was perfect.

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