Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Thriller in the LBC

I was busy this afternoon registering for my wedding -- yes, it's happening July 26th -- so I caught the race on DVR. While I'm happy for the chance to catch the race on tape, I'm bummed I don't get to share the experience with my friends. Hope to do just that at Barber.

Anyway, so much happened today that I'm going away from my normal post-race post (off sequence if you will) and will just go with a brain dump of thoughts and ideas. I mean, is there really any other way?

So let's get started:

1) Make no mistake, this was Big Boy Racing. Tough drivers, rough, constantly changing surfaces that led to physical exhaustion and quite a bit of tension. Temporary street courses have become like a night at your local short track...lots of broken parts, lots of fired up drivers, and tons of passionate racing. Everybody in the field drove hard today, and everyone earned what they got. That's what this series has become the last couple of years. If you think about it, there are really no "back markers" in the IndyCar series, sure, there are drivers of different abilities throughout the field, but over half the field is capable of winning, even more than that are podium worthy, and the rest can get to the top 10.

2) I loved the bad blood that came out of the race, and there was lots of it. Half of the Field vs. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power vs. Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon vs. Justin Wilson, Graham Rahal vs. Whoever Dares Try to Pass The Chosen One. It goes on and on. I think we're all adults here and would never want to see fists start flying -- although a Clint Bowyer-inspired run through the paddock would be hilarious -- but I think it's a good thing for guys to have a little bit of an edge to each other. While I like the fact that most of the guys in the series are very friendly and get along with each other, it's fun to shake things up, too.

3) Mike Conway proved once again that Ed Carpenter made a huge get when he signed him to drive the twisties this year. So many people thought his career was all but over when he stepped away from the car at Fontana a couple years back and said he wasn't going to drive ovals any more, but the opposite is true as he is always in demand. It's too bad he and his team made a couple of mistakes at St. Pete or he could be a two-time winner this year.

4) The crash. What the hell was Hunter-Reay thinking? That's probably a place you don't think of passing someone when it is actually a street and people are driving down it at 35 mph. His "I saw an opening" excuse doesn't pass muster, and when you add to the fact that his own teammate (James Hinchcliffe) didn't even think about defending him, you know that he really, really screwed up. My own personal credo is that you never wreck the leader of the race. Never. That was a rookie mistake made by someone who has over 100 IndyCar races in his pocket. Leader Josef Newgarden was on cold tires and would have been an easy pass a couple of corners later. He had dominated the race to that point, why get so impatient?

5) Speaking of Newgarden, I hope he gets a bit of luck soon. That race was out there for him to win, and it would've been a huge deal for Josef and his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team in so many ways if it would've happened. I'm on board with him winning sometime this season, though, he's driven through the field two races in a row and will seal the deal sooner or later.

6) I don't know about you, but I'm getting a bit sick of Power's excuses when he wrecks someone. This whole "oh, gee, man...I don't know...man, I just...I just didn't see him (and so on and so on)" is wearing thin. He pulled the same crap when he drilled Dixon at Baltimore last year. For a guy who wins a lot of races and is a championship contender, he wrecks a lot of guys then spends a lot of time claiming innocence. I might start calling him Bill Laimbeer. If you watched the NBA in the 80s and 90s, Bill Laimbeer would cheap shot guys or start fights, then back away like "who, me?" when people called him on it.

7) Pardon my language, but Carlos Munoz is the s--t. So is Oriol Servia. That is all.

8) When Jack Hawksworth was announced as Bryan Herta Autosport's driver a couple of months ago, there was a lot of angst on the Twitter about the move. I know a lot of it wasn't personal, the great thing about IndyCar is that we as fans have personal relationships with drivers and that skews our judgement sometimes. But two races in it looks like a great move. We'll see what goes down when we get to the oval part of the schedule, but early on he looks to be a keeper.

9) It was actually a good weekend for all the rookies as Munoz was on the podium, Hawksworth ran well and Mikhail Aleshin and Carlos Huertas finished in the Top 10.

10) Long Beach proved once again that it is truly special.

That's it for now. Is this season off to a heck of a start or what?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

St. Pete's In The Books

So what did everyone think of yesterday's race? Overall I thought it was pretty solid, with some good passing, a nice, long green run and very little controversy.

Well, there is one that some will be talking about for a couple of days. With just over 30 laps to go in the 110-lap event, race leader Will Power inexplicably slowed, causing a backup in the field and sending Jack Hawksworth (who was having a great run in his first IndyCar race) into Marco Andretti, knocking both out of the race.

With the new rules on restarts (which I don't completely understand fully, I'll admit), this may not be the last time something like this happens. Since the leader can no longer just take off coming out of the last corner, which led to some ugly restarts in the past, some might resort to a bit of gamesmanship to give them some sort of advantage. Perhaps that needs to be addressed in the form of a minimum speed coming to the green, but I'll leave that to Derrick Walker.

So, as always here at 15DIM, let's run through the Top 5 and some other odds and ends.

Winner: Will Power. You don't say? The way he picked up from where he left off in 2013 (winning three of the final five races), it seems like he didn't have an off-season. Outside of surrendering the lead when he pitted, WP led from Lap 30 (when he took the lead from polesitter Takuma Sato) on in registering his 20th win in IndyCar (he also won twice in Champ Car). It's pretty simple...when it comes to a road or street course, you can't let this guy get to the point, because in that situation he is one of the best front runners in the business.

Runner-up: Ryan Hunter-Reay. RHR seemed pretty pumped after the race, and as he said afterwards, you can't go wrong piling up points early in the season. With the ovals and twisties worth almost the same amount of points this year, you have to do two things: be consistent and show up for the 500-milers. The main thing is to just get off to a good start. When RHR won the title two years ago, he finished third here. Last year? P18, one of nine races in which he finished 18th or worse, which is how a guy with two wins and six total podiums finishes seventh in points.

Third: Helio Castroneves. Helio put on a happy face, but didn't seem all that pleased with his finish, no doubt a little miffed at his teammate for his shenanigans on the restart. Still, he begins his quest to put a heartbreaking finish to the season behind him by picking up a podium finish in the opener. Remember how I said last year that the street race doubleheaders put the championship on a tee for Will Power? The more I think about it, the more ovals do the same for Helio this year.

Fourth/fifth: Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud. I'm lumping the two of these guys together because I have pretty much the same thing to say for both of them, as they had pretty quiet days where they ran near the front and kept their noses clean. The Champ's day was pretty ho-hum, while Simon made a nice jump up from his 14th-place starting position.

Notables: Josef Newgarden had one of the better drives of the race, starting last in P22 and moving up to P9 by the end of the day. He was probably one of the faster cars on the track by the end of the race...Mikhail Aleshin was the highest-finishing rookie, coming home P12...What happened to Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe? Rahal had a great start to the race, quickly moving up 12 spots, then just stalled out and started going backwards before finishing P14. Hinch ran last all day (the result of what appears to be some sort of electronics gremlin) and was out of it from the drop of the green, and only moved up to his P19 finishing position via attrition. Of course, given his feast-or-famine results of last year, he will probably win at Long Beach in two weeks.

JPM: Juan Pablo Montoya's return to IndyCar was a bit (to some) underwhelming, but being realistic, his 15th place finish sounds about right. Despite his talent, he still has a lot of work to do, not only in learning the car, but stepping up to the competition level. It's a little tougher this time around.

TV broadcast: I thought Allen Bestwick was tremendous. Though he referred to himself as being "new to IndyCar", he seemed like he did his prep work and was on point all day. I think he really impressed everyone in the series (and lots of fans too) when he showed up for spring training at Barber to learn as much as he could.

I'm not a fan of Scott Goodyear's, but he seemed a little better yesterday. He's been in the booth for so long but just has never seemed like he ever said what he wanted to say, if that makes sense. I thought his focus on Newgarden and his technical explainations for driving lines and passing techniques near the end of the race was tremendous. His game seemed a little raised with Bestwick at his side.

I'm still not sure quite what Eddie Cheever provides to the broadcast, and I think that he and Goodyear do get in each others' way sometimes. But he did provide an interesting moment when he admitted to Goodyear that he doesn't like talking about the Indy 500 with him because Cheever won and Goodyear had so many heartbreaking finishes.

So now it's on to Long Beach, one of the cornerstones of the series, and one of the most interesting of the street courses on the schedule. Not only that, it's a track where several drivers such as Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Juan Pablo Montoya and Nelson Piquet (F1) got their first career wins, and in two of the last three years, Mike Conway and Takuma Sato have picked up their first IndyCar wins as well. Long Beach is always full of surprises, and it looks like thanks to the folks of that great city it will be on the schedule for at least another three years.