Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Long Beach -- Upon Further Review

So, here we are, three races into the season and I haven't come through with either a blog or a podcast on any of them.

While part of that is due to a busy schedule, and our trip to Singapore, it's also been a little about motivation. Not for me, but for IndyCar. Frankly, I've found little to be inspired about this season as the races have been a bit mundane. It's like we are back in the 90s again...the top two teams, Penske and Ganassi, along with Chevy, have dominated, and the top five in the points -- and six of the top eight -- come from those two teams.

Let's call a spade a spade: the racing just isn't as good as it has been in the recent past. There, I said it. Hopefully something is done to rectify that, lest we lose the two positives to the season -- more fans in the stands and more watching on TV -- as fast as we've got them.

The problem with less-than-stellar racing is that storylines and people's attention go away from the race itself and focus on other things. In IndyCar's case, that would be the officiating from race control, and Sunday's decision to only give Simon Pagenaud a warning when he crossed a yellow blend line after his last pit stop, just added fuel to the fire.

Full disclosure, I got the idea for this post after reading Mark's excellent post at New Track Record, and finding myself in agreement with what he said.

I'm with Mark in that race control made the proper call. They have the protocol of issuing warnings in their pocket, and felt that Simon's move didn't give him any advantage over a fast-coming Scott Dixon as he exited the pits.

And it didn't...Pagenaud turned in what, 4-5 feet too early? He turned in and blended smoothly into traffic, it's not like he crossed the line 20 feet early and made a beeline to the racing line and chopped Dixie off or anything. If you think the result of his actions gave him an advantage, you are simply looking for something that isn't there.

Yes, he violated a rule, and the penalty from that can be a warning. Since his actions didn't affect the competition, it was the correct call.

You didn't like it, I get that. I didn't either. But 40 years of sports fandom, 15 years of sportswriting and 10 years of coaching has taught me this one simple, yet valuable philosophy.

Just because you don't like the call that was made doesn't mean it was a bad call.

It's the same as the situation at Phoenix where a piece of debris sat on the front straight for the final 10 laps. IndyCar has long been consistent with the idea that if debris isn't in the racing line they don't throw a caution. The caution that did eventually come out with two laps to go was totally unrelated to the debris.

I liked that call, because it is consistent with what they have done in the past. Let's face it, the only reason people wanted the caution to fly was to set up a NASCAR-type "Saturday night shootout". Sorry, altering the competition for the sake of fan thrills is wrong, and I have always been on that side of the argument.

As I said on Twitter that night, if you want that kind of stuff, then let's call it entertainment. Let's throw yellows whenever we feel like it if the racing gets stagnant, and crown whoever we want as champion, despite what the rules say. Wait, another series already does that, and most of us look down on that series.


The problem IndyCar has is that too much is left to interpretation. No one has a problem with rules that are cut and dried, like pit road speeding, for instance, but the rest of the rulebook is just way too gray. The blend line rule in place Sunday, as well as the avoidable contact penalty, are two that are just asking for controversy.

IndyCar needs to have specific penalties to all rules violations. You cross a blend line, here is the penalty, you run over an air hose, here's the penalty, and it goes on and on and on.

Do those kinds of penalties suck? Yes, as a matter of fact they do. Would it suck to see someone given a drive through penalty in the waning laps of the Indy 500 for glancing over an air hose on their way out of their pit box? Sure it would, but it would also get everyone on the same page and everyone has complete clarity of what is expected of them.

That's what other sports do. I played a lot of golf, and if I hooked a ball out of bounds, the penalty was stroke and distance. Meaning you added a stroke to your score and hit from the same spot where you hit that shot.

The circumstances as to how that happens doesn't matter. Someone talks in your backswing, your foot slips, your club breaks...none of it matters. Drop a ball on the ground, add a stroke and move on. That is the point of rules and enforcement of those rules.

IndyCar doesn't have's like when I was a senior in high school and had a midnight curfew. I'd normally roll in about 12:05 or 12:10 or so, and my dad would lecture me the next morning and that would be it. I fudged a rule because the penalty wasn't too severe. Now, if my dad would've said "if you miss curfew I take the car away", you bet I would've been home early!

To me, two things clean up the officiating: cut and dried rules with specific penalties, and better communication between series and teams. The former I've already covered, and the latter is something that is much needed in several areas anyway.

Many sports leagues send videos out to their teams prior to each season explaining rule changes and how they will be interpreted. If IndyCar doesn't do that, they should. Show the teams what is a block, or what constitutes avoidable contact. Show them what a pit violation is and how all of these rules and calls are made. If teams complain, there is evidence that the rule was completely explained to them before the season started, end of discussion.

The problem that exists right now is that the teams feel like they should have a say in the officiating. They shouldn't, but at the same time the rules they are given to compete under shouldn't be so ambiguous.

Let's hope they get it all figured out before this weekend's race. Even better, let's have exciting enough race than we have something better to talk about next week.

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