Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day 5 -- Indy Giveth, Indy Taketh Away

One thing that sets Indy apart from anywhere else is the fact that the highs are higher than any a driver will ever experience in their career, and the lows put them so far down that they have to look up to see Hell.

What is even worse is that those emotional swings can sometimes happen in the same day, which was what young Josef Newgarden learned late this afternoon. Just a little while after setting the fast time of the day at 222.785 mph -- the third day he has topped the charts -- the 22-year-old rookie also suffered the first incident of the month when he spun exiting Turn 4 and after a couple of 360s crunched the nose of the No. 67 Dollar General car on the inside wall.

Neither Newgarden, or his car, seemed all that worse for the wear, and the cool, confident Newgarden said he was struggling in a draft a little and just lost the car. No blood, at least not much, no foul (at least one that wouldn't be called in the playoffs...oh wait, I'm thinking the 1990s era NBA) and both car and driver will be ready to go Thursday afternoon.

Unfortunately, the Lotuses (or is it Loti) are still so far down they are looking up. Way, way up. It seemed like the teams of Jean Alesi and Simona de Silvestro had found something Tuesday when both drivers topped 210 mph for the first time, until it was discovered that they were allowed to run more boost, mostly to give Alesi the opportunity to pass his rookie test (he needed to top 210 mph to do so), which he did.

Both cars took a step back Wednesday, to the 205 mph range, and Alesi sounded a little -- no, a lot -- concerned. In some pointed post-practice comments, the 47-year-old stated he was nervous running 20 miles an hour slower than the other competitors and that he worries that would create an unsafe environment on race day.

He might be right. Should no one step forward with a last-minute deal and we go with the 33 we have now, expect race control honcho Beaux Barfield to have the black flag handy on speed dial to park them for the day. I'd let them run as long as they stayed on the lead lap. I hate start-and-parkers as much as anyone, but give both teams a pass because that isn't their intentions. They are here to compete, and to race. It's just worked out that way.

 I feel for both drivers, but especially de Silvestro. Simona has been in a slide since her harrowing crash here a year ago and just cannot find a way to blast out of her funk.

No doubt she is talented, and she proved that many times when she was running the same equipment as everyone else. But if her confidence keeps sliding backwards it may be hard for her to recover.

On to some more notes:

*The speed chart. As mentioned, Newgarden was quick once again as Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing flexed some muscle again today, with second driver Bryan Clauson also cracking the top-10 at 221.031, which was good for seventh. Marco Andretti was second-quick at 222.108 and was followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay (221.763), James Hinchcliffe (221.638) and Dario Franchitti (221.62). A total of 15 drivers broke 220.

So today was Andretti Autosport's turn to dominate the top-5, although most of their fast times were recorded when they were working together out on the track. Franchitti ran his best laps of the week working with Target Chip Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon, while Charlie Kimball, Takuma Sato and Sebastian Saavedra all cracked the top-10 once again.

I've gotta tell you, Andretti is impressing the heck out of me. He has figured out how to go fast and works well in traffic. A couple of weeks ago I was ready to post something about writing him off for the season and questioning his desire given several incidents and poor finishes to start the season, but Indy is big to him and always will be. 

*Things were a little calmer today. At least compared to yesterday's thrill show the drivers put on late in Tuesday's practice. There were a group of eight cars or so working together early in the afternoon, but everyone seemed to dial it back a notch. 

*Katherine has her motor. Apparently Jay Penske and Dragon Racing worked out their differences with Lotus, because a Chevy was delivered to their garage this afternoon and installed in Legge's car. Katherine is scheduled to hit the track at 8 a.m. for her driver's test, which I think given her experience (and a Chevy) should be a breeze. I guess the question I'm still waiting for an answer on is this: where did the engine come from, and where does it leave Sebastien Bourdais? Stay tuned.

*Ads on the walls? (And now in the grass?) The horror! There has definitely been a fair share of discussion (most of it pretty positive actually) about the new ads on the short chute walls, and the new National Tire and Battery (Graham Rahal's sponsor) logo now appearing in the first turn grass.

At first it seems akin to putting up billboards at Augusta National (home of The Masters), but in a way, it's no big deal. Indy is a racetrack, and many tracks have billboards and ads. Truthfully, someday I see a line of billboards going down the open space on the outside of the backstretch, high enough for fans around the track to see it but low enough to appear on TV.

Honestly, it's just a sign of the times, just like ads going up in Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. I was at Wrigley last week and if done right, where the ads seem to fit into the flow of the park, they look fine. But to me the big thing is this: when it comes to practice and time trials, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the best bargain in sports. Hands down. It's only $10 for practice and $15 for time trials, and you can sit pretty much wherever you want!

More importantly, you can bring in your own food and beverages, which very few venues (actually almost none) allow you to do. So if throwing up a few billboards makes it possible to generate revenue without sticking it to the fans, I'm down with that.

Rant over. On to Thursday! Which means Fast Friday and qualifying are just a day away!

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