Monday, July 16, 2012

Monday Stuff

Eight days since my last blog post?!? You'd think I had a real life and job and stuff like that.

First of all, congrats to Mark Wilkinson at New Track Record for being asked to join the Social Media Garage crowd at the Brickyard weekend. Mark is one of the good guys in the blogosphere and is a fun guy to read because he writes exactly like he talks (and that's a good thing). His insights are stellar and as an English teacher in real life he definitely writes with a special style.

There is so much going on down there that weekend that Mark should have a ton to write about. If you haven't given him a read, please do so. His most recent post includes his fellow blogger celebs, give them a follow on Twitter and check out their writing.

So talking about NASCAR gives me the perfect segue to launch into my first topic, and that's the green/white/checker debate. I think pretty much everyone was disappointed to see both Iowa and Toronto end under yellow, but it happens sometimes.

(Quick sidebar: I realize Indy ended under yellow too. But it would not have been eligible for a G/W/C as the leader had been shown the white flag.)

Look, IndyCar has problems that need to be fixed, and dealing with races under yellow is way, way down that list. If the focus is on building the fan base and increasing TV ratings, I want to see how a G/W/C accomplishes that. If you can prove to me that G/W/C has done those things in NASCAR, I will happily change my stance.

Someone on Twitter mentioned that the series needs to "adapt". Adapt to what? Artificially providing an "exciting finish" to the fans? What if that "exciting finish" deprives someone of a deserving win...which in many cases it does? The purpose of a race is, like any sporting event, to identify the best on that day. If a G/W/C had denied Ryan Hunter-Reay either of his wins at Iowa or Toronto, it didn't do it's job and in my opinion would have provided an unworthy winner. If you are giving away trophies and at the end of the season crowning a "champion", that's not the way to do it.

As we are in the midst of a dry spell in the schedule that will unfortunately last most of the summer, it's a good time to speculate what the docket might look like in 2013. And as if by magic, Randy Bernard provided me with a little help. From Twitter:

. Our goal is 19 races for 2013. Trust me, we want to watch you race more! 

Love the enthusiasm, but 19 should be the minimum. I'd more prefer 22-23, which gives the series several back-to-back weekends or a long run like what we had from Indy through Iowa. I know that some space needs to be left in there for travel and prep, but with just five races over the next two months, IndyCar is killing any momentum it had gained through that great stretch of racing.

With Houston already in the mix, it sounds like ovals are the emphasis right now, and they well should be. It sounds like Pocono is looking solid, and Phoenix can happen with one catch: the race has to be in the spring. The Phoenix people are also saying a decision needs to be made soon.

Shoot, we've heard that one recently, haven't we? That was all the rage in the Road America discussion, which is one other track I'd love to see on the schedule. Michigan should be as well, but I'd rather wait until 2014 for those two so there could be enough spacing in the schedule to give Milwaukee and Belle Isle a chance. Yeah, Belle Isle sucks, but it's a good corporate opportunity and some of those are necessary too.

More than anything, the schedule needs to be ready by the time we reach Fontana in September. It's important, top to bottom, that everyone knows so that the fans can plan and the promoters have as much time as they need to succeed. The way this year's schedule was handled didn't do anyone any good.

Robin Miller is predicting a 2013 season that includes 19-20 races and 7-8 ovals. We're getting there...

With an abbreviated schedule, it lends itself to the talk of where drivers might be heading in 2013. "Silly season" has already begun in NASCAR, with Matt Kenseth announcing he wasn't returning to Roush Fenway Racing next year. Other drivers appear to possibly be on the move, including Stewart-Haas' Ryan Newman, who lost his sponsorship with the US Army last week.

So over on the open wheel side, who might be going where? Right now I think a lot of things pivot around three drivers: Ryan Briscoe, Marco Andretti and Dario Franchitti.

Looking at Briscoe, it's obvious that good fortune hasn't been one of his best friends the last couple of years. He is capable of winning, but hasn't and Roger Penske only deals in absolutes. Sure he has a pole at Indy and is ninth in points, but has four finishes of 16th or worse (and nine in his last 27 events) and has torn up a lot of equipment. At what point do you stop using "bad luck" as an excuse? I think he is a capable driver but Penske has high standards and I'm not sure he is meeting them.

In Andretti, you have a name driver and a legacy who has been underachieving and has seen his talent and performance regress over the last couple of years. Sure he is competitive on ovals, but in a series that is two-thirds twisties where does that get you? If his name were Marco Polo (yeah that was supposed to make you laugh) would he have this much rope? He has a great team (three wins, two drivers top-5 in points), and has just ONE top-10 for the season. In fact, he has failed to put a car in the top 10 in close to half of his career starts.

As a dad, I don't envy Michael. Moving Marco on would make for some very strained Christmas conversation, but as James Hinchcliffe has proven this year, there are lots of great drivers out there who could probably improve the finishes in that ride. Maybe with the success of RHR and Hinch he can afford to have Marco driving around midfield, but on the business side it doesn't make a lot of sense.

There have been more than a few places that have mentioned that if Andretti goes to Cup that he takes an IndyCar driver with him. Marco going to Cup makes sense given his success on ovals, and it would be a graceful way to get another driver into his IndyCar seat.

I wish I could figure Marco out. I can't question his commitment to the team because I'm not privy to that sort of info, but why in the world does he struggle week in and week out (and has been for the better part of two years) while his two teammates are thriving in the same work environment? He does hamstring himself every weekend with poor qualifying efforts, which doesn't help, but then on race day usually he doesn't do much of anything. He comes to life at Indy, but do you tow him around as an anchor the rest of the season for one race a year?

With Dario, I just wonder how much longer he plans on racing, and what the challenges he has faced all season have affected that decision. It seems like he is still enjoying the process, at Milwaukee he mentioned that setting up a car is like "putting together a puzzle" and that he still likes working on puzzles. But for a guy with four championships, is it worth the effort?

I hardly think Dario has lost a step because he has made some adjustments and qualified well since Texas, but that hasn't produced results on race day. He hasn't struggled like this for a long time, and maybe the problem isn't that we think he is ready to retire, it's just that he has set a standard that is so high we wonder if he is satisfied when he isn't competing up to those standards.

I thinking winning Indy for the fourth time will be enough to get him out of bed each morning, and the problems he is having this year won't continue forever. But, you have to call it a career sometime, and I'm saying this as a true compliment, he seems like he has enough going on in his life that he can walk away and be happy.

Still, if he chooses to walk away, hopefully it will be to the television booth, where he could be really, really good.

If any of those three drivers move, it will definitely cause a shift in the series, and I wouldn't be surprised if Josef Newgarden or Simon Pagenaud would fall into one of those seats. His antics at Toronto aside, I think Pagenaud would fit in well at Penske, where his ability to set up a car and his driving style would compliment him well with Helio Castroneves and Will Power.

Having Newgarden at Penske would be a huge get, and putting another American driver into a championship-caliber ride would be huge. Given that my top three favorite drivers are a Canadian and two Brazilians I'm not particular, but to some it matters and getting a top-level American into a top-level seat might make a difference.

Personality-wise, I think he would fit in well at Andretti Autosport. But if those are his two options, he certainly can't lose.

Wow, for an off-week, this one got a bit epic! All in all it was a slow week news-wise and hopefully with Edmonton on the horizon things will speed up this week. Like Toronto, Edmonton has had some interesting to-dos since its might be a great weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Mike

    Thanks for the kind words. If I had any humility, I would be blushing. I must agree with you about G/W/C. The Saturday morning coffee boys agree completely that it is not needed. The only thing I want the sweetener in my diet pop. I bet you thought I was going somewhere else with that, didn't you?