Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All About Japan and the Most Bizarre Race of the Year

I don't know if it was because it was midnight on a Saturday, but the race just had a weird vibe to it. While I'm glad they made the most of the situation and went to Motegi one final time, for some reason it just felt like a lot of people spent the weekend going through the motions. The racing seemed benign and conservative for the most part, and if it weren't for the hilarious, top-of-their-game performance by the Versus broadcast crew (and I am being sincere) I might have found something else to do.

But I hung in there, and here are a few thoughts I have:

Changes need to be made. Brian Barnhart and his Race Control crew once again embarrassed the series with some of their calls on Saturday. There is just no other way to say it. The start of the race itself was totally fractured, so much so it contributed to the bad racing through the event's first stint. Then of course, came the call to put Dario Franchitti at the end of the line as opposed to serving a drive-through penalty when he punted half of the top-10 in a mid-race restart. That was a bad move on Dario's part, and it was blatant. It deserved the same penalty several other drivers have served during the season, and is the picture definition of "avoidable contact". Barnhart has repeatedly made errors in judgement calls this year (and Dario has been the recipient of two very friendly calls himself, here and in Milwaukee) and that just can't happen. I am all for doing what is best for the fans, but racing is still a competition, and that competition has to be inforced with integrity. Barnhart is not doing that. While he might be doing a fantastic job in his day-to-day duties with IndyCar, he should not be a race day official in 2012.

I did regain a little respect for Dario...after he took full blame for his actions. Of course, it might have been the best thing to do since he took out two teammates and a rival, but turning his back for a moment against his usual whining ways was probably the best out possible. Then again, it was a bush-league move and there was no hiding from this one.

This was a familiar sight!
Wait, you mean there was an actual race? Yes there was, and Scott Dixon was your winner! Actually, Dixie had a fantastic weekend, so hats off to him for that. Taking the pole, leading all of the laps and winning the race...can't get much better than that. I wish Will Power had done a little more to challenge him, because Dixon would have raced him clean as always, but it's possible he was just that much better than everyone else. Don't count Dixon out in the championship, while he is still a long shot, he's driven a solid season as always and if he caught a couple of breaks could sneak his way past Power and Franchitti.

Once again, Graham Rahal deserved better. I don't know what else the guy can do, he has had some of the worst luck of any driver I have seen in a long, long time. All season long he has been solid, and sometimes spectacular, and stuff happens that shuffles him back in the field. It happens, but he is certainly due, and Ryan Briscoe isn't all that far behind.

The Versus guys...may have had the best performance of the weekend. Bar none. It is probably very difficult to do what they did in sitting in a studio thousands of miles from the venue and broadcasting someone else's feed, but I thought they were great. From all accounts they are all great guys with great personalities and I think letting that go a little bit was fun to listen to and appropriate given the late-night broadcast.

The points. Dario's self-inflicted wounds gave the points lead back to Will Power, whose incredible comeback over the last two months sends him into the penultimate race with an 11-point lead over Franchitti and a 59-point advantage over Dixon. So barring any catastrophies at Kentucky in two weeks, we will once again go into the final race of the season with the championship still in the balance.

There are a lot of great storylines heading into the last couple of races, and still a lot of excitement left. Many people went into this year thinking it would be a bit of a throwaway given the dominance of the red cars and the lame duck status of the equipment, but for the most part I think it has been anything but boring. Here is hoping the series finishes with a flourish and carries that into what should be a great 2012.

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