Tuesday, May 29, 2018

102nd Indianapolis 500 Wrap-up

The roar is over, but what a roar it was! Sunday's 102nd Indy 500 was one of the hottest races on record, but from the SW Vista it was all worth it as we were entertained by another great show. While I will admit it wasn't as "thrilling" as the last several, I will never see a race in person and complain about it being "boring".

If you go to watch racing in person and find it boring at any level, you probably can't be helped. Anyway, as in the past, let's run through the Top 10 finishers and other notable topics.

Winner -- Will Power: Anyone who has followed the series for any length of time knew this day would come. Power has consistently been one of the best driver in IndyCar for close to a decade, and being employed by Penske Racing is a big help too. Power's experience at Indy has always been a bit mixed. Since 2009 he's always started in the top nine, and this year marked the fourth time he has started on the front row. Yet, before 2018 he'd only recorded two Top 5 finishes. Still, he's always been fast and had a strong car, it just hadn't been his "day" before Sunday.

Runner-up -- Ed Carpenter: Like Power, Carpenter has had a weird relationship with the Speedway. He's a three-time polesitter of course, and one of the bravest guys out there, but the results haven't always been stellar. In fact, his only Top 5 finish came in 2008 and he hadn't recorded a Top 10 in the last eight races. He showed he had come to play when he took the lead at the drop of the green flag and led the first 30 laps, part of the race-high 65 laps he led on the day. Ed's a guy you think will have his day too, but on Sunday Power was just faster down the stretch.

Third place -- Scott Dixon: Dixon is one of the most consistent drivers in 500 history, and he used a little bit of fuel saving magic to pull off his seventh Top 5 finish. Dixon pitted several laps earlier than the leaders to get more track time, and while several other drivers who did the same thing had to come in for fuel in the closing laps, he was able to stretch his fuel to the finish.

Fourth place -- Alexander Rossi: Easily the most entertaining driver in the field Sunday, Rossi charged from his 32nd starting position to his second Top 5 in three races. What was even more impressive is there was no off-strategy moves involved, the 2016 champ simply raced his way through the field. His outside moves on restarts will be talked about by fans for a long, long time.

Fifth place -- Ryan Hunter-Reay: Since winning the 500 in 2014, race day hadn't been very kind to RHR before Sunday. Over the last three years he had led laps by eventually finished P15, P24 and P27, dropping out of the race last year when his engine let go with 150 miles remaining. He's always a threat at Indy, just got a little bit of luck to go with it this year.

Sixth place -- Simon Pagenaud: Simon was really, really quiet Sunday, as his run was solid if not spectacular. Still, he ended up with a career-best finish, topping his eighth-place effort in 2013.

Seventh place -- Carlos Munoz: I don't know what it is, but Indy just brings out the best in this guy. Well, I do know because it fits his aggressive driving style, but he's just one of those guys that got comfortable very quickly and knows the fast way around. In his six races, he completed all 1,200 laps of competition, five total Top 10 finishes. Though it's unfortunate he probably won't sit in an IndyCar again this season, he's always a good bet to find a seat for the 500.

Eighth place -- Josef Newgarden: Honestly, I'm a bit disappointed in Newgarden's finish. He was fast all month and while he did lead three laps Sunday, you just never heard his name called the rest of the day. It's kind of strange to think that in his Indy 500 career, he's led a total of just 17 laps and one Top 5 finish.

Ninth place -- Robert Wickens: This year's Rookie of the Year has just been so impressive. His finish Sunday was more of a workman-like effort as opposed to much excitement, but it was a good start to his 500 career. After watching him finish second and Phoenix, it seemed like a good run at Indy might be in the cards. I also want to give props to my friend Jeff Campbell, who is a part of Wicken's crew.

Tenth place -- Graham Rahal: Rahal may have been the second-most exciting driver in the field behind Rossi Sunday as he improved 20 spots from his 30th starting position. It's kind of surprising to discover that this was just his third Top 10 finish in 11 races.

15th place -- Stefan Wilson: To be honest, when Wilson moved to the point on the Lap 193 restart, there was a good part of me hoping that somehow he would make it to the finish and win the race. He drove a great race and is proof of good things happening to good people.

24th place -- Jay Howard: I was really excited when I discovered my John Cummiskey Racing boss was part of Howard's crew, so I was watching that car with a lot of interest. They didn't have an easy day, as John mentioned to me in a text after the race, but at the flying of the checkered flag the car came home running and in one piece, which isn't bad either.

27th place -- Helio Castroneves: Prior to his crash on the Lap 145 restart, I thought Helio looked great. He was almost always above the white line in Turn 1 (pretty much everyone else was down to the grass), and was consistently in the Top 5 all day long. I know he started lobbying for a 2019 ride as soon as he got out of his car, and given how he is still competitive he should get that chance.

30th place -- Danica Patrick: I could probably write a couple of blog posts about how I feel about Danica, because I have a lot of conflicting viewpoints about her. Now that her career is over, looking back I would've liked to have seen how Danica would have done if racing were her passion.

Of course I don't know her personally, but I've always thought that she looked at racing as a job, and there is nothing wrong with that. Racing made her a lot of money and it opened up a lot of doors that helped her build a brand that made her very, very rich.

She had talent, you don't get to where she was without it. However, I don't think we ever saw a person that lived and breathed racing, that wanted to be successful at racing like her life depended on it. That person would have been just as successful off the track as on, that person would have built a true legacy than just lasting in the sport longer than the women that had come before her.

I doubt we will see her at a racetrack much after this. She is moving on with her life, and that's her right. But when I look back at her career I see a lot of wasted talent and opportunity. Racing with passion is high art, she just never seemed interested in it.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Bump Day Thoughts

The return of Bump Day was a little more interesting than we thought, wasn't it?

When the 34th and 35th entries were announced a couple of months ago, making bumping possible for the first time in a while, I wasn't all that enthused. I thought it would just be a couple of one-off or back-marker cars going at it at the end, and when the day was over it would all be pretty much a ho-hum affair.

I'm not saying that to demean any of the drivers or teams that put everything on the line yesterday. If there were 35 entries a year ago, I would've been in the thick of Bump Day as part of Buddy Lazier's team. I know how hard everyone works to get a car onto the track, I just didn't think Bump Day would be the excitement needle-mover a lot of other people thought it would be.

In quick summary, I was wrong. When 5 p.m. rolled around Saturday and things had shaken out, we had three of the most popular drivers in IndyCar fighting it out for two spots.

Yep. Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann were our bumping candidates. Amazing.

Conor later put himself solid in the field with an incredibly ballsy run, and then there were two.

High drama ensued. Pippa couldn't find speed, Hinch went out and had to come right back in due to a vibration, and Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal added to the fray when they decided to run back out to try and improve their times.

When 5:50 rolled around, Pippa was on her final run and Hinch was left sitting next in line. We all know how it ended up.


Like all of you, I was pretty gutted by the end result, but it was also some of the most thrilling theater I've seen at Indy qualifying in a long time. This was 1995-type stuff. You know, the year Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi didn't make the field.

My stomach hurt during those final 30 minutes, and afterwards I needed to decompress a little bit. It was that incredible.

It was everything all of us had waited for, and what we had wanted. Bumping was back!

The problem is, this is 2018. Thanks to social media, no one goes quietly in 2018. While Pippa and Hinch handled themselves with as much grace as possible given the circumstances, the rest of the racing world melted down.

Indy Star racing writer Jim Ayello called it a "mess". Whatever, dude. Turn your tape recorder off.

Other people decried the fact that qualifying ended at 5:50 instead of its "traditional" 6 p.m. Forget the fact that 5:50 had been the finishing time since at least 2014. Others blamed Rossi and Rahal for going out and burning time with their futile efforts. And finally, people blamed Mann for repeatedly going out when it was clear she didn't have the speed to bump James Davison.

People, it's time to give this all a rest. While you may not agree with the end result, it was all done fair and square and within the rules.

I'm going to sound like a soon-to-be-49-year-old man yelling at a cloud, but one thing I dislike about a current trend in our society is that if the outcome isn't what you wanted it to be, something wasn't "fair" or that rules need to be changed.

I know I'm a traditionalist when I say this, but racing is still a competition. Somehow over the years we were given the impression that it was entertainment, which is part of the package of course. But in the end, it's people competing with one another.

The end result should be that we as fans are entertained, but the rules shouldn't be shaped in a way to fit it to exactly what we want it to be. I know I'm in the minority here, but it's not about us! We go to races to be entertained, but at its core we are just people showing up to watch other people compete.

That's sports!

The drivers and teams went into the day knowing what the rules were, and those rules were followed with integrity. As a result, we should accept the outcome. The two participants most affected are somehow able to do that, why aren't we?

It makes me think back to the 2000 Super Bowl, when Rams linebacker Mike Jones stopped The Titans' Kevin Dyson one yard short of the end zone on the game's final play.

I didn't hear any outcry that the Rams should have gotten one more play, I didn't hear people complaining that a football game is 60 minutes long, or that the rules needed to be changed to "fix" it for next year. Time ran out, the game ended. Rams win.

That's exactly what happened yesterday. Time ran out. While the delays for rain didn't help matters, the fact is that the rules stated and end time to qualifying, and when time was up we had our 33 qualifiers. If you didn't want to be one of the two cars left on the outside looking in, the remedy was simple.

Go faster.

I'm going to be honest, I didn't like the end result. Hinch is one of my favorite drivers, and I know Pippa personally and know the passion she has for the 500. I'm gutted for them. It will be hard to watch the race next week if they aren't in the field.

I imagine business decisions will be made and one -- or both -- of them will be racing next Sunday. Even if that doesn't happen, and even if they are two of my favorite drivers, I still accept what happened yesterday, because that's competition.

I get the idea that it's not 1995 and sponsorship money is harder to come by, but that isn't any reason to change the rules. It's not a reason to expand the field, and it isn't a reason to lock in all of the full-time entries.

It's competition, and at the top levels of professional competition, it's hard. I've seen that firsthand following professional baseball for the last 18 years. It's so hard.

Then again, it's supposed to be. If the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the greatest track in the world, and the Indianapolis 500 is the fastest and most prestigious race in the world, it should be the hardest thing these drivers have ever done.

It should be hard to go 230 mph, it should be hard to qualify, and the hardest thing should be to win the race. There should be winners, and there should be losers. The people who participate in this sport aren't 12-year-old kids, and they shouldn't be treated that way.

What happened yesterday didn't create a "mess". What happened yesterday was competition. The "mess" would occur if IndyCar changed the rules and let 35 cars run, or made other rule changes to accommodate the bumped drivers.

No, yesterday wasn't a "mess". It was crazy, it was dramatic, and it was everything good about sports and competition.

On other words, it was perfect.