Quick Thoughts On The Upcoming Race at Talladega

The next elimination in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup will take place after today’s race at Talladega. Currently Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Dale Junior, and Jimmie Johnson are the four drivers currently in the elimination positions. Kevin Harvick and Joey Lagano are locked into advancing while a majority of drivers in the top 8 in points, though not officially locked in, have enough points compared to the bottom four that their continued Chase presence is likely. Kasey Kahne is 8th and he has a 19 point gap on 9th. With the runner up from last year’s Chase plus three drivers who have all won three or more races this year potentially about to be eliminated the elimination at Talladega will have plenty of excitement.

Talladega will be unpredictable. Whether drivers will try and play it safe or race all out from the start is unknown. The consequences of crashing could be devastating. However, as Dale Junior proved in the spring at Talladega holding back does not necessarily work. Whatever happens the race should be incredibly exciting.

What I expect and hope is that Jeff Gordon will advance. Same with Kyle Busch. I think either Newman or Edwards or Kahne will fail to advance and one of the big name drivers outside the top eight will get in. But only one. There’s a good chance Junior/Keselowski/Johnson manage to win, but there’s also a good chance one or more will wreck. Danica Patrick could win today, same with Kyle Larson. Both would be exciting. Terry Labonte is making his final career start; a win would be an incredible way to send off an incredible career. Labonte was actually interviewed by the media this weekend and he was just as interesting and articulate as he was ten years ago.

Qualifying was a complete disaster. The issue all season on tracks with restrictor plates has been that being farther back in the pack creates a better lap time. In group and knockout qualifying that meant that drivers and teams did not want to be the first car out. This led to cars simply sitting on pit road for a majority of plate track qualifying and then everyone rushing out at the last second. Because this was kind of boring and kind of dumb NASCAR changed the qualifying rules for this race. NASCAR divided the teams into two groups and gave them five minutes to qualifying in the first group. However teams still sat on pit road for too long, and the pack issues remained. This led to a number of drivers setting ridiculously low times and others simply not setting a time at all. Talladega has it’s start/finish line at the end of the tri-oval rather than the center of it. As such it was harder to make it around in time to start the lap before the timer ran out especially with only 5 minutes.

In the past NASCAR used a top 35 provisional system where the top 35 teams in owners points were automatically locked in. Due to fewer cars attempting to qualify and more cars starting and parking qualifying has changed back to the old system. The top 35 fastest cars are locked into the race, followed by provisional by the highest in points and then potentially a past champions provisional or a seventh provisional for points. As such in theory only the top six drivers in points and most recent champion are locked into a race. As such when a number of drivers failed to set a time there was some risk of a major driver or Chase driver missing the race. In the end the only two full time drivers to miss the race were Justin Allgier and Ricky Stenhouse Junior. Stenhouse missing the race means that Danica will likely catch him in the points if not pass him. Missing the race continues the downward trend of Stenhouse’s sophomore season which could charitably be described as not good.

Qualifying at the restrictor plate tracks must change. There are two good options. NASCAR could go back to single car qualifying at restrictor plate tracks only. Single car qualifying is pointless at a plate track anyways. It would be boring, but it would also be more fair. The biggest issue is that restrictor plate track qualifying is always a little strange as the teams who are most likely to be eliminated always try a lot harder and are often a lot faster than teams which are less worried about failing to make the race. Qualifying at a plate track does not indicate speed on race day. The other option would be to do qualifying races like at Daytona. This would be more fun for fans and more reflective of how drivers will run on race day. The only issue with this is a crash or two in the races could also lead to some crazy results. Either of these solutions are better than what was seen Saturday.

NASCAR has for whatever reason banned tandem drafting and push drafting, although bump drafting is allowed. Push drafting is when one car pushes another around the track. Bump drafting is one car bumping the other. Both are very effective on a plate track. The ban on push drafting is not a good idea. It leads to unfair penalties and it makes it much harder for drivers to advance through the field. The penalty is also incredibly subjective. On late race restarts and during Green-White-Checkers flag moments about 2/3rds of the field end up pushing each other with no penalty. As seen in yesterday’s Truck race when Matt Crafton and Joe Nemecheck were penalized for pushing but a lot of pushing went on in the last two laps with no penalty the rule is not fair nor easy to enforce. Push drafting is risky, but if drivers want to risk it they should be allowed to do so.

NASCAR at Talladega is worth watching. Plate racing is a bit fake. It is not really fair. But it is exciting. It’s unpredictable. And while the Elimination Chase is also fake and unfair, it’s also exciting. Combining the two creates a cannot miss spectacle that promises to entertain and shock in equal measures. I’ll be happy as long as Jeff Gordon advances to the next round!

By the way, while picking a driver to win a plate race is futile, I’ll pick Jeff Gordon!

Formula E: The New A1GP!

The A1GP series was a winter open wheel racing series in which each nation had their own one car team that was supposed to be driven by a driver from said country. Designed and marketed as the World Cup of Racing it never quite attained the lofty goals of its creator. The series lacked enough star driver to really become a major force in the racing world. The economic collapse of 2008 proved to be fatal to A1GP , and the series ended up canceling their 2009/2010 season. Since then a number of winter series ideas have been proposed. Even Indycar has talked about a running a large number of international races in the winter. The all electric open wheel series Formula E now moves into the off season slot which A1GP used to hold. Beijing was the first race. Despite all of the potential for disaster, the first race was mostly a success. If Formula E makes the right moves they can succeed where A1GP failed.

Formula E’s first race saw no major issues. The cars worked fine. Some people hated the lack of sound. To me they sounded like Go Karts. I don’t mean that as an insult either. After watching the first race I really wanted to go to the nearest indoor electric kart track and do some rental racing. A few mechanical failures marred the debut slightly. Although it was disappointing to see Bruno Senna get eliminated early and although some of the power saving was a little over the top most of the race was good. We were treated to an excellent last lap battle between Nick Hiedfield and Nicolas Prost saw Prost make an egregious block which caused a big crash that allowed Lucas Di Grassi the win.

Andretti Autosport had a strong debut. Frank Montegney finished second in stark contrast to his Indy Grand Prix result. Andretti Autosport currently leads the team points standings in Formula E. Overall there was a decent amount of parity between the teams. Surprisingly, or not, one of the main exceptions was Dragon Racing. Oriol Servia could only manage a seventh after attrition; the teams cars were never truly competitive. Sadly, Katherine Legge and Takuma Sato’s Aguri team also struggled for speed. Legge finished outside the points while Sato failed to finish. Sato did manage to set the fastest lap of the race; likely contributing to why he did not finish. Stephane Sarrazin finished 9th and potential Indycar driver (Though I hope he doesn’t become one) Daniel Abt finished 10th. Another potential Indycar driver (again, don’t want, but may happen anyways) Sam Bird finished 3rd. Professional crasher Nelson Piquet Jr. finished 8th.

Formula E’s debut was fun. It was not revolutionary. The slow speed of the cars allowed for some interesting racing and some significant drafting. The cars do need to be a little faster, however. My biggest concern with Formula E is the amount of focus on the environmental side of it. Climate change is real, and I voted for Barack Obama. However, the type of environmentalism at times promoted by Formula E is almost enough to make me want to watch Fox News and listen to Rand Paul. As an example Formula E refuses to allow any support series which are not electric to run with them. They also talk incessantly about being eco friendly and how they reduce emissions. These are potentially serious issues which Formula E addresses in a preachy and annoying fashion.

Formula E has a great deal of potential if it tries to build itself as a new A1GP. The first thing to do is to find some star drivers to race in it. The second is to focus on being a fun racing series rather than over-focusing on being environmentally sound. One final thought: Formula E needs some American drivers. JR Hildebrand, Conor Daly, and Marco Andretti were all part of the Formula E drivers club but none got a ride. Even though Marco’s dad owns a team! If you are going to have two races in the USA (Long Beach and Miami) with some small rumors of a third (Atlanta???) you kind of need an American driver. Until then we have Legge and Servia and maybe Sato to cheer on. Hopefully their teams improve.

Gordon’s Alive (And So Is This Blog)!!!

 

I haven’t wrote anything on TLR since July. I’ve meant to write and podcast more. I really have. It is just that there has not been enough time. Quite frankly, I’m not sure if there is enough time moving forward either. Despite this concern Triple League Racing is coming back. Jeff Gordon is a serious contender for the 2014 Sprint Cup. No matter how contrived the Elimination Chase may be, I have been a Jeff Gordon fan since I started watching racing. This is his best shot at winning the Sprint Cup since I started blogging in 2009. I cannot let this opportunity pass me by.

Beyond NASCAR there are a lot of things in racing I want to talk about. I actually have had some changes in where I work which means that I have most weekends free. This has allowed me to watch more races live than for the last couple years. There is a lot of stuff to talk about. Joseph Newgarden will by driving for the combined Carpenter/Fisher/Hartman team in Indycar next year. Red Bull Global Rallycross is awesome, and I plan on covering it. I watched Formula E and enjoyed it. That may shock some of you. Obviously there are some things I am not happy about with Indycar, but there are also good and interesting things about it. MotoAmerica is rising out of the ashes of the AMA. I am looking forward to covering it all over the off season and into next year. Most of my writing will also appear on WFOpenWheel.com, as it was earlier in the year.

The TLR Podcast is also going to come back. Two issues may delay it. It takes a long time to edit the podcast and second I may have to upgrade computers before I can effectively record audio. We will have to see. Whether next week or next month or next year, the TLR Podcast with myself and James will be back at some point.

What I want, what Triple League Racing needs, is to evolve. Triple League Racing needs other writers and other opinions to return to being the vibrant and compelling blog it was a few years ago. So if you are a blogger, or want to be one, please email me at dylanpt24@yahoo.com or dm me on twitter, because I am interested in combining bloggers who are fans of any, or all types of racing in one spot. Sports cars, Indycar, F1, NASCAR, MotoGP, MotoAmerica, Rally Cross, or whatever other racing series you are a fan of. Blogging can be hard. Developing your brand and identity and then getting people to read it is a major challenge. We are better off working together. So if you want to write, I promise 100% editorial freedom. The only rules are no harassment and no plagiarism. Otherwise, if you join Triple League Racing you can write what you really believe and think.

 

Breaking News! NASCAR Teams Form Owners Association! Has CART Returned?!?!

 

7/7/2014. This may be a day that will mark a change in racing history. NASCAR’s top 9 teams formed an organization called Race Team Alliance. Penske, Ganassi, Hendrick, Stewart Haas, Gibbs, RPM, MWR, Roush, and Childress have all united to form the group. This is a big deal. NASCAR has resisted organization or franchising since its inception. This is contrary to many other forms of racing.  These associations are clearly positive for the teams, but whether they are good for fans or the direction of a series as a whole is much more debatable. What is going on in NASCAR is unclear. The RTA claims to be after nothing more than improving the sport, increasing marketing, and streamlining costs. Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Micheal Waltrip Racing was elected as President of the Race Team Alliance, and in an interview claimed that fans should welcome RTA. Perhaps. But a look at the history of racing and team owner organizations is troubling to say the least.

Most infamously CART was organized in 1979. CART saw Indycar rise to unprecedented levels of popularity while at the same time squeezing out American drivers, ovals, and smaller teams. CART and IMS CEO Tony George fought an infamous power struggle which brought down American Open Wheel Racing. After Unification, team owners again stretched power which has resulted in everything from the firing of innovative, fan focused CEO Randy Bernard to the elimination of double file restarts. Drivers and team owners have increased their power in Indycar, and many of their decision are not necessarily helpful in creating an exciting product for fans.

MotoGP has two organizations, the IRTA for the teams (generally speaking non-factory teams) while the motorcycle manufacturers has the MSMA. These two groups are not as infamous as CART, nor are their decisions so wholly destructive. Yet rules out of these two groups still can be troubling, and give a ton of power to motorcycle manufacturers irregardless of whether these rules are good for the series as a whole or fans. Examples such as the various rules about electronics, tires, and bike specifications exist. Even when not destructive, the process of sharing power between these organizations, Dorna, and the FIM leads to more politics and simply more time in making decisions. Formula One teams formed an association called FOTA in 2008. This organization nearly caused a  Split in Formula One, though its power waned considerably and the organization dissolved this season.

NASCAR’s history with organization was more focused on preventing a drivers union than a team organization. Two key attempts at organization were create in the early days of NASCAR. 1961 saw the attempted formation of a drivers union with some involvement of the Teamsters Union. Curtis Turner was a driving influence in the creation of the Federation of Professional Athletes which saw many drivers join. The union’s most enthusaistic supporters were given lifetime bans while Bill France Sr. also created the Grand National Advisory Board to give some voice to others. The FPA failed as everyone involved left, and the drivers given bans (greats such as Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, and Fireball Roberts) were all reinstated. Eventually.

1969 saw a new organization brought into existence. This time the movement to create the Professional Drivers Association was led by Richard Petty. Key issues included insurance and pension for drivers. No one was suspended this time, but conflict flared up over Talladega. Tire issues at Talladega caused most of the drivers to seek a postponement. Bill France Sr. would not allow that. 32 drivers boycotted the initial race at Talladega. The race went on however, with many drivers in what is now the Nationwide series (then Grand National) filling in. 1970 saw the introduction of a rule which said that any car entered into the race would have to race, regardless of whether the initial driver did or not. In 1973 Richard Petty left the drivers organization which then collapsed.  Thus ended any sort of power sharing agreement in NASCAR, at least until now.

I am not saying that massive conflict will happen in NASCAR. I am not saying a Split is imminent. Or a boycott, or anything of that sort. Clearly, everyone at this point knows that a “Split” would be incredibly destructive. Yet the risk is there. With team owners looking for more power, and NASCAR famously jealous in its guardianship of said power, conflict seems likely. NASCAR’s response to this was short. Yet the timing of this announcement right after Brian France’s mid season State of the Sport is telling. Until more details come out it we can only speculate on the goals of RTA and NASCAR. But it seems to me to imply some serious dissatisfaction with the current state of NASCAR.

So what if there was a “Split” in NASCAR? Again, I am not saying this will happen or is likely to happen, but what if? The teams would only be able to do this if Bruton Smith’s SMI joined with them, or at least let them race on SMI tracks. As such RTA would have at minimum Bristol and Charlotte as marquee events. They would also have Vegas, Kentucky, Loudon, Sonoma, Atlanta Motor Speedway, and Texas Motor Speedway. Interestingly enough SMI also owns North Wilkesboro Speedway though it would need updates. NASCAR would race at all of the ISC tracks as well as NASCAR owned Iowa and DMG controlled Road Atlanta and Sebring. Whether NASCAR would continue to run SMI tracks is hard to say, but it is decidely unlikely RTA would be allowed into any NASCAR controlled tracks.There are a number of independent tracks which could swing either way, or run both. Pocono, Indianapolis, Dover, Gateway, Milwaukee and Nashville most notably. If a Split were to happen it also might mean more road racing in NASCAR. From Nola to Road America, Montreal to Mosport, Mid Ohio to New Jersey Motorsports Park, a lot of potential road courses are out there, and in a desperate situation might be able to get a NASCAR and/or RTA race. RTA includes Roger Penske, who of course promotes the Belle Isle street race for Indycar. Could an RTA series use street courses as a way to make up for the loss of ISC tracks?

The possibility and power of a Split would depend on if all the RTA teams left together. If they did, and if they took all of the drivers with them then NASCAR might be in some trouble. As it currently sits what would NASCAR have left? Would fans stick around if the stars went to another racing series? NASCAR would have the Daytona 500, but is it enough to sustain the series? On the other hand could RTA survive without Darlington, Daytona, or Talladega? For television, the most successful way for RTA to position itself would be to get back on the ESPN team. Were that to happen ,and RTA to have the full power of Sports Center on their side, NASCAR would be in considerable trouble. All of this is purely hypothetical and unlikely to happen, but it is an interesting thought experiment.

Could positive developments come out of the Race Team Alliance? One thought some people have is that the RTA may mean more of NASCAR’s television and sponsorship money given to the teams. Revenue sharing and franchising could be a positive move for NASCAR. It could reduce ride buying, improve parity, and stabilize the lives and livelihood of drivers, pit crews, mechanics, and all of those whose living depends on racing. On top of that NASCAR is going to have many of their races on Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports starting next year. This may have a dramatic affect on the television ratings. Indycar ratings dropped incredibly when they moved from ESPN to NBC Sports. If that happens to NASCAR there will be some significant issues with sponsorship for teams. This would make revenue sharing even more vital for the survival of the several teams. The other hope with RTA is that it really does lower costs and help get more teams or at least more cars to races. Though the history of cost savings in racing is filled with failures, perhaps RTA will help push NASCAR along to a successful path. Certainly, NASCAR has a number of serious issues. Fans are disappearing, and engaging younger fans and non-traditional NASCAR fans has been an incredible struggle. RTA claims to want to focus on marketing so perhaps a new approach is what NASCAR needs.

The Race Team Alliance could have any number of results. It might even be much ado about nothing. But it does make me a bit uncomfortable. I’ve seen too much in Indycar over the last four years to really feel good about seeing team owners get more power. If nothing else, lets have a moment of silence for Randy Bernard, the Indycar CEO removed by Indycar team owners. I certainly hope RTA either has no effect on NASCAR, or has a positive one. I just can’t shake the feeling that the NASCAR world will never be the same again. Whatever happens, and whatever you think will or should happen, this is a story that should be followed closely by anyone interested in racing.

Houston and Pocono Race Reviews: Three for the Price of One

This article also appears at http://www.wfopenwheel.com 

The condensed Indycar schedule has resulted in lots of races in quick succession. As such Houston and Pocono are getting combined into one race review. The Houston double header went first. Race one was held in the rain while race two was dry. Pocono produced a long green flag run and a fast race. Overall I was very surprised about how exciting Houston was, especially the first race. As for Pocono I was very disappointed with the lack of action seen during this weekend. After the less than thrilling race last year and the boring race out of Texas this year I was not exactly surprised about what we saw out of Pocono.

Firestone Delivered Real Rain Tires: The most interesting aspect of Houston for me was the new Firestone rain tire. Rain tires have been a major issue in Indycar for years. The tires Indycar had were only suitable for small amounts of water and thus rarely were useful. The new tire had been promised all year, and the first weekend it was available it saw use. The results were incredible. A street race in the rain. That was shocking. The new tire seemed to preform perfectly. If there is one concern it is the fact that Indycar does not have an intermediate tire. The old rain tire was more of an intermediate tire but it has been retired completely.  The tire seemed to preform well as the rain slowed, and in all honestly the red tires (softs) were pretty good on the half wet track as well. But I would be somewhat concerned that in really heavy rain or in very marginal rain that the new tires might not preform as they’re meant for too wide of range. I really think if Indycar’s going to race a lot of road and street courses they need wet and intermediatetires, just like Formula One and MotoGP.

Huertas, Alishen, and the Rookies: Carlos Huertas won the first race. I love underdog success stories, but that wasn’t the underdog success story I wanted to see. After thinking about it I now feel a little more generous about it. After all it proved anyone can win in Indycar. Literally. While it’s nice to see Hawksworth and Alishen and Munoz have success they’re not really the younger drivers Indycar needs to succeed. I love rookie drivers doing well; just not these rookies. I mean, the 2013 Lights Champion is rideless. Anyways, it was good to see but I would just hate to see Alishen or Hawksworth one day get a ride that otherwise would have gone to Karem or Newgarden. JPM and Munoz joined on the podium. Graham Rahal or Tony Kanaan might have had a podium however Rahal speared Kanaan coming to the final (called off) restart and was then penalized.

Simon Pagenaud Wins Race 2: Speaking of talented but non exciting people, Simon Pagenaud won race 2 and won the pole for race 1. He’s an incredibly talented driver but again does Indycar need another talented but bland international driver? Don’t we already have Briscoe and Dixon? Do we need another? Pagenaud’s win was never in doubt once Helio crashed. Pagenaud is mulling over his options for 2015. I personally hope he moves to F1 or joins the WEC. But that’s unlikely. Right now it looks like Andretti Autosport or staying at Schmitt are his options. I prefer to see him stay at Sam’s team, and I think from Honda’s perspective that makes the most sense. After all that gives Honda 2 very strong teams instead of just one superteam at Andretti. His potential Andretti ride appears to be a fifth car. Which is more acceptable to me than him getting a ride at Penske and Ganassi; after all Andretti employs the very marketable Hinchcliffe and the potentially series saver Marco. Penske and especially Ganassi on the other hand could use a younger American or at least fun personality under 30. So if Pagenaud has to get a Big Three ride I’ll take Andretti over Penske or Ganassi. Though I do worry how  this could hurt Hinchcliffe and Marco.

The Chicanes: One aspect about Houston that needs to be improved are the chicanes. As the track is set up in a parking lot I am not sure some of the chicanes are needed. They just spread the field out and ended up getting cut a lot of times anyways. In particular the chicane every seemed to cut the most (Pagenaud and Hinch cut it a ton in race 1) seemed pointless and unnecessary. The racing was pretty good, but since this is a parking lot track lets get a longer straight away, okay? Honestly, despite the good racing I just have a hard time really getting into a race in a parking lot, but at least if we’re going to do it lets make it the best course possible.

2nd Race: Race 2 managed to be fairly exciting outside of the top 2. After Helio and Bourdias made controversial contact Pagenaud and Alishen pulled away from the field. Juan Pablo Montoya charged ahead to try and take 3rd from Jack Hawskworth. Lots of good racing ensued. In the end JPM fell back to 7th but he and the other drivers in the top ten managed to keep the race interesting. Overall I enjoyed race 1 slightly more than race 2, but I think that’s due to the rain, and the fact Hinchcliffe ran upfront for so long.

Timed Races, Overtime, Green White Checkers: I am no fan of timed races, but I do understand the need at times. Rain slows a race way down, and it needs to be done within a reasonable television window and before sunset. Even a race is timed I still think there needs to be an overtime system; or a green white checkers rule. Most people consider soccer (or football) a fairly pure sport and the World Cup features both Overtime and Stoppage Time. Indycar needs a similar rule. Otherwise the most dramatic part of a race can be lost. There could have been a fantastic finish to the Houston race… instead Huertas won because Rahal crashed Kanaan under yellow. Is that really how you want a race to end? Also, as I’ve said on numerous occasions Indycar has more yellow flag finishes than any other racing series. To me that is a problem.

Pocono 

Juan Pablo Montoya’s First Win! At least his first win in Unified Indycar. Juan Pablo Montoya qualified on pole and ran up front. Just like Indy he seemed to stretch fuel slightly longer than most drivers. As he went to pass Will Power on the only restart Power threw a massive block. They made contact and part of Montoya’s front wing was clipped off. Power was penalized while Juan seemed no worse for the wear. He easily held on to the lead until he had to pit. Joseph Newgarden and Tony Kanaan took the lead when Montoya pitted. They could not save enough fuel and so without a yellow were unable to make it to the finish. Montoya retook the lead when they pitted and won by over 2.5 seconds. Montoya’s win vaulted him up to 4th in points behind Helio, Will, and Simon. Though he is a longshot Montoya appears to be back. He intends to run next season as well. Can Juan Pablo Montoya win another championship during his comeback tour?

Another Dull Oval! The 2014 Indianapolis 500 was a great race. The 2014 Texas race was incredibly boring. Pocono is flat and long so it is more similar to Indianapolis than Texas. However the racing we saw was much closer to what was seen out of Texas than Indianapolis. The racing was processional, the focus was on fuel saving, and the fact it was the fastest 500 mile race (or one of the fastest three, can’t remember/don’t care) really doesn’t mean much when the racing was… sub par. The most interesting moment of the race came when JPM passed Power. Other than that the race was fairly spread out and the drivers were more comfortable saving fuel than racing side by side.

Long Green Flags: I am not convinced long green flag runs are such a great thing. To be clear I do not watch racing for crashes, nor do I support phantom cautions or making the cars harder to drive on ovals. But seriously I do not see how having long green flag runs are a positive. Homstead in 2009 saw only 3 cars on the lead lap. Texas this year had six. In 2012 Rahal hit the wall and still finished 2nd. Will Power’s penalties at Texas and Pocono were made significantly less worse because of how spread out the field was. How is any of this good? Long green flag runs spread the field out, they encourage strategy and fuel savings over on track action. It may make the racing more like Formula One or Le Mans but that doesn’t make it good. On a related note I’m not sure 500 or even 400 miles at Pocono is a great idea. Would a 300 mile race have been more exciting? Or would it have been over in an hour?

Low Car Count: The racing at Pocono was not helped by the poor car count. The 2014 season features just 22 cars (Formula One like and not in a good way) and this race only had 21 starters as Jack Hawksworth was injured and BHA pulled out. While that decision makes sense from the teams standpoint from the series standpoint dropping to 21 cars was not a positive. NASCAR has a rule where if a team enters a race it must race, regardless of whether a driver gets injured or not. This rule was put in place generations ago to prevent a driver boycott, but it also means if a driver gets injured a relief driver is always found. Perhaps a rule like this should be implemented in Indycar.

Is Pocono the worst oval in America? Well, Dover and Nashville are probably as bad if not worse. I mean, NASCAR or Indycar, Pocono just doesn’t seem able to produce good racing. Very Dover like, at least on the NASCAR front. I do not particularly imagine that an Indycar race at Dover would be particularly enjoyable either. Some people enjoyed the Pocono race, and I guess if you like technical racing and race strategy then maybe I can see it. But Pocono certainly wasn’t the type of racing I want to see, in any series.

The Myth of the Flat Oval: Some people like to say that Indycar should run flat ovals. They say this is what Indycar’s were designed forSince I’ve watched Indycar (2007-now) the best racing I have seen has been at the banked 1.5 mile ovals, Indianapolis (new car) and Fontana (new car, but presumably good with the old). Pocono? Loudon? Milwaukee? Richmond? Nashville? Some have been better than others, but overall they have not produced great racing. Perhaps they used to with USAC and CART, but today, not so much. Iowa is an interesting track because it is short yet banked. Some great racing has been seen there, though since 2012 the race has started to spread out a bit as well. What will we see next weekend at Iowa? Flat ovals may be safer (though Hawksworth may disagree) but that doesn’t mean they produce great racing or are better for Indycar than more banked ovals.

Attendance Issues: I have already discussed attendance and Pocono in a previous posting. Based off the racing we’ve seen the last two years how is it surprising that attendance is a bit low? The Indycar race may have been more entertaining than the NASCAR races at Pocono, but it was not very exciting. I love Indycar oval racing, and I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to see what we’ve seen the last two years from Pocono. Attendance looked okay on television. Some angles looked very strong, other angles were less positive.

Ryan Hunter Reay’s Championship Falls? Another bad result, another mechanical failure saw Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter Reay’s title hopes take what appears to be a terminal turn. Though I suppose anything is possible it will take a miracle for RHR to win the title.

Houston demonstrated that Indycar can run in the rain. Pocono demonstrated that some tracks are not terribly exciting no matter what cars are put on them. Indycar can produce great racing, but something needs to change. What we saw at Pocono was simply not exciting. It’s especially disappointing because of how good the racing has been at Indianapolis. I do not want to see Pocono go away because we cannot afford to lose any more ovals and because I do not want Indycar to become a 14 race series. Yet at the same time if Indycar were able to trade Pocono for another oval (preferably a banked oval) then I would be ecstatic. Maybe aero kits will improve the racing, or maybe it will lead one manufacturer to lap the entire field. As for Iowa there is always the potential for a great race, but the new car has not been as good there as I would have liked. It’s not been as bad as Texas, but it is not as good as it was in 2010 and 2011. Hopefully this year will see an improvement. Otherwise we could be in for the third dull ovals in a row. When this happened in 2009, Indycar made changes which created some great oval races. Should be see 3 poor ovals in a row, will changes be put in place for next season?

 

You Should Not Blame Fans for Pocono’s Problems: Or Why Indycar Must Grow

This article also appears at http://www.WFOpenWheel.com 

Indycar went to Pocono for the first time in over twenty years during the 2013 season. The deal signed was for three years, and the race is part of the double points awarding Triple Crown. However yesterday the AP broke some disturbing news regarding the 3rd year of the deal. Apparently pre-race ticket sales are low and the future of the race is in doubt, even for next season. The AP article contains quotes from the Pocono CEO  Brandon Igdalsky about how researched fan interest has not equaled as many ticket sales as expected. This has led to a lot of debate about what has gone wrong. Normal issues have been discussed (promotion, distance, number of fans) but others have pointed the blame to the fans themselves. After all, if fans want more ovals, why don’t they show up? There’s nothing wrong with that logic….

Well actually, there is a lot wrong with that. On the most basic level is the fact that many people cannot attend these races, whether they want to or not. From my personal perspective I am a twenty-one year old college student who lives in South West Michigan. It’s not like I can just go and travel to Pocono on a whim. I would say it’s the same for a lot of fans. I want more ovals, but other than MIS it might be a bit hard for me to get out to them. Personally, I don’t believe I am a disloyal or bad fan just because I will not spend all of my money, free time, and perhaps not so free time to attend Indycar races. I do what I can for the series; I watch the races, I blog and podcast about it (though whether that is good for the series or not may be debated), and I do what I can to get other people to watch. To expect every fan to travel to a ton of races is unreasonable; for most sports fans a majority of our fandom will be based on television and the internet. Outside of local sports that is the reality. If you think about it that’s how it has been for generations. Sure today has television and social media, but it’s not like in the 1920′s sports weren’t broadcast on the radio and reported on in newspapers. Sports writers and radio broadcasters were huge; they brought these sports to the fans.

Another reality is that attendance for NASCAR tracks have been down since the recession in 2008. Some argue that this is because ovals are dead and everyone wants to watch street races. The television ratings tell a different story. NASCAR clearly has some issues, especially with gaining new and younger fans, but it still pulls fairly strong ratings and has a ton of interest. Attendance is down for many reasons. Travelling is expensive and the cost of hotels (which often increase dramatically for race weekend) and parking adds up quickly. On top of that a majority of oval tracks are not particularly close to major population centers. The on track action at a lot of tracks in NASCAR has suffered; look at a lot of the 1.5 mile tracks, the Bristol repaving, and Pocono in general. The most clear cut way this relates to Indycar is the decline and fall of the season ticket holder. In the past (pre 2008) many tracks sold season tickets. In fact to get seats for Cup races these tickets were often nearly required. As such people got Indycar tickets at tracks such as Chicagoland, Kentucky, Texas, and many other ISC and SMI tracks. Unfortunately since the recession, NASCAR attendance has plummeted and thus the season tickets have largely fallen by the wayside. Thus the lower attendance for Indycar races is not surprising. I have no way to prove it, but I also wonder if the disappearance of Indycar onto Versus and NBC Sports has hurt more casual fans interest in going to Indycar races. Getting back to television ratings, look at the massive gap between Indycar ratings (a .4 at Texas on cable) and NASCAR (2.0+  on cable). On broadcast outside of Indy the ratings gap is similarly large. If you look at it that way, everyone should be grateful anytime the attendance is a quarter that of NASCAR’s.

Ovals aren’t dead. True, some of the Indycar road and street races are very well attended. Not that the alleged 100,000 plus people saved Baltimore. But it is also true that almost anything promoted in the center of Long Beach would outdraw something promoted in Pocono. That doesn’t mean everyone who goes to Long Beach is a hardcore Indycar fan. Nor does everyone who goes to Indianapolis watch all of the races. If they did… ratings would be higher. So should we blame those fans too? On top of that attendance between Indycar races are between about 15,000 and 40,000 people outside of the center of city streets. Houston’s Astrodome track and Belle Isle are not exactly overflowing with fans. Barber sells out every year, but they limit the number of tickets sold. That is not to say that Barber is poorly attended, it’s just to say that the “sold out” Barber race is not necessarily more attended than the “half sold” Texas. Though this depends on whose attendance figures you decide to believe. As I said (and a number of other people have also made this comment) it’s not like Pocono didn’t know that Indycar attendance has been low for awhile. It’s not like NASCAR attendance at Pocono is breaking records right now either. So the attendance figures shouldn’t be a complete shock to the CEO of Pocono.

As James and I talked about with John Hall on our latest podcast, at least in the South, even NASCAR has lost some interest to the local tracks. I am not saying short tracks, dirt tracks, or short track/dirt track drivers are the solution. I’m just saying that everyone (Indycar, NASCAR, track owners) should look at this phenomenon and try and recapture some of that magic.  As has been pointed out by many people there is also a lack of stuff to do at many Indycar ovals. If you look at most of the road and street courses a lot more racing takes place. The entire Road To Indy shows up at most events. Pirelli World Challenge, Robby Gordon’s trucks, various other smaller series, and occasionally the TUDOR United Sports Cars show up. That is a lot more value for fans than what we’re seeing at Pocono which appears to be simply Indycar and Indy Lights. Concerts and partying are another option, though as John points out in the context of NASCAR, focusing too much on that side of things can have some negative consequences.

The heart of the problem is simply the lack of fans Indycar has, rather than the fact that the fans they do have are terrible, horrible, whinny assholes. Some people have said they are fine with Indycar being a .4 sport. That growth doesn’t matter to them. That’s fine, but the reality is without a bigger  Indycar, without more fans and without more growth this is what you will get. You’ll smaller fields, more ride buyers, and less tracks. That is kind of how these things work. So it’s grow, or lose all the things that make Indycar worth watching. Whether growth is likely or not is irrelevant. If you do not want more Pocono issues, there has got to be growth in the fanbase.

There is some good news. Ratings on NBC Sports have been up in the second half of the season. Both Houston and Texas were seen by over 400,000 people. That is not a good number, but it’s better than what has been seen typically on that channel. Perhaps NASCAR to NBC Sports will help these ratings. I tend to be optimistic though I know many intelligent people who are less than optimistic. There are also rumors of some sort of change in the Indycar television contract to get more exposure. We will have to see what happens, but there are reasons for optimism. For tracks in Indycar to be successful, they are going to need television ratings to sign sponsors, create stability, and keep races on the schedule. But we have to get there first. That is the multi-million dollar challenge. At least if you want more ovals, road courses, and more than fifteen races per year.

Another interesting thought I have had which has not been discussed much is the fact that the racing at Pocono last year simply was not that good for Indycar. NASCAR’s racing at Pocono has been bad for ages as well. Texas has had the same problem, at least in my opinion. Perhaps this has something to do with the lack of a crowd this year. Perhaps not, but it would be something worth pursing. Do you really expect people to travel long distances for sub-par racing?

It is not all doom and gloom. Though the comments out of Pocono are disturbing to say the least nothing is set in stone. That means that the Pocono race may come back. We don’t know what politics are being played by the series and the track, or how that relates to said comments. There is plenty of reason for concern and even panic, but the end is not set in stone. If you can attend Pocono this weekend you certainly should. A strong walk up crowd would be encouraging for the track, and if the worst happens at least you’ll have got to experience  Indycar at Pocono one more time.  On the other hand if you are like me and cannot attend, it is not your fault for the problems at Pocono. These issues are much more complex than just rotten, ungrateful fans.

By the way if you haven’t listened to Triple League Racing Podcast #16 you really need to do that! We don’t talk a lot about Indycar with John from LiveFastRacing, but a lot of good points are made about racing in general in our NASCAR and MotoGP/AMA/WSBK discussion.

Triple League Racing Podcast #16 The Return of John Hall!

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Today’s podcast features special guest John Hall, formerly of the LiveFastRacing Podcast fame. He joins James and myself and we talk a lot about NASCAR and MotoGP, with a little WSBK and AMA thrown in. For the motorcycle road racing fans, this show is a must listen. This episode was recorded during and after the Sunday Indycar race, so at the end of the podcast James and I discuss Indycar. Just a note, no monkey’s were dropped in the making of this podcast.

Triple League Racing Podcast #16

 

Triple League Racing Podcast #15

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Technical issues have been fixed, and the Triple League Racing Podcast is back! It is another long show, where James and I discuss Indycar, NASCAR, and Formula One. We cover Indy, Texas, Montreal, Haas, Adrian Newey, Ed Carpenter, Dale Junior, and much more! Don’t miss it! Download it from here or listen on Itunes!

TLR Podcast #15

2014 Indycar Texas “Race” Review: At Least Ed Carpenter Won

 

This article also appears on WFOpenWheel.com 

That wasn’t what I signed up for. This isn’t why I became an Indycar fan. Those were my thoughts throughout this year’s Texas Indycar race. I became an Indycar fan for the high speeds and close racing. Due to aerodynamic changes and tire degradation to prevent the horrors of pack racing Indycar has managed to take both of those things out of their race at Texas. Drivers seemed to enjoy it and so did some fans. Many fans, myself included, felt rather disappointed after the end of the Texas race. Whether you enjoyed the race or not I have a little secret for you. It was basically a NASCAR Sprint Cup Race. Actually, scratch that. Some of the NASCAR races this year have been a bit more exciting than that. The Indycar race at Texas this year was actually just like the Coke 600 and the Jimmie Johnson dominated race at Dover. Cars got lapped early, very few cars were left on the lead lap, long green flag runs stretched the field out, one or two drivers dominated, and drivers had to fight their cars. As a side note, I was not terribly impressed by either of those races.

Its not like this was a surprise. We have seen Indycar totally neuter the 1.5 mile ovals due to the death of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas. Is that the right decision? I don’t agree with it. Indycar didn’t change everything when Tony Rena or Paul Dana died. They haven’t changed everything due to Dario’s career ending injury at the Houston street circuit. Maybe some changes were needed. Maybe they were not. Either way there are other ways to get to close racing than just with the packs. We have seen close racing at both Indianapolis and Fontana with the DW-12. However we have never seen that at Texas. I believe that more downforce and a slower wearing tire are the answers. Others argue that it is due to the differences between Texas and Indy/Fontana that we do not see at Texas the type of drafting we saw at Indy. They would say that Texas does not have as long of straights and thus less room to draft. Perhaps they are right. All I want is to see some racing a little bit closer than what we saw this year. I don’t care if it is a pack, draft and pass, or something else. I just want something closer than Texas has been in the DW-12 era.

Traditionally Indycar (USAC/CART) was based upon a combination of short ovals, road courses, and street courses. Much like traditional NASCAR and Formula One races often could end with only one car on the lead lap.The later part of the 1990′s changed this. The IRL was based upon close, wheel to wheel action. CART also became famed for this in their oval races in the period between the start of the split and the bankruptcy of CART.  I started watching Indycar in 2007, and became a fan in large part due to said wheel to wheel action. Indycar was faster and closer than anything I had watched before, and I came from a NASCAR background. NASCAR has at times had close racing on the 1.5 mile ovals, but more often than not their racing on these tracks was sub-par. Indycar has had some rough 1.5 mile oval races; Texas in 2009 springs to mind. Of course after terrible races at Indianapolis, Texas, and Richmond in 2009 Indycar made some changes in their package (including adding push to pass) which helped create excellent races at Kentucky and Chicagoland in 2009.

Texas this year (and for the most part in 2012 and 2013) featured low downforce and high tire wear. This has lead to a number of things. There certainly are no packs (which btw were not seen in the last few pre-DW-12 Texas races). It has also created a situation where there is not much passing and the field spreads out fairly quickly. How spread out? Rahal hit the wall in 2012 and still finished 2nd. This year Will Power got a pit road speeding penalty under green, which dropped him from 2nd to 6th place. Ever since the introduction of the DW-12 we have seen a majority of the field fall a lap down very quickly. This sometimes happened with the old car, and it happened at Fontana last year. Sometimes this can still produce good racing. At Texas however we saw Ed Carpenter have an over 14 second lead on Tony Kanaan before the caution. Low downforce, hard to handle cars, worn tires, and dirty air combined to create a perfect storm of boredom. Not only has it spread out, but the lack of downforce and quick wearing tires has caused the cars to be significantly slower than in the past. Initially the Indycar’s could run 215mph lapspeeds, but after a little while speeds would slow down near, or even below 200mph. At least the dreadful, Helio dominated 2009 race featured some higher speeds than that!

Some people love seeing the drivers fight the car. Some people hate having the cars flat out. Many of the drivers, especially those from a road racing background are on that side. The current format has led to a lot more driver vs. car and a lot more emphasis on tire and fuel strategy. Some people really prefer watching that. I can understand that sentiment, but I do not agree with them. Judging by twitter, fans, journalists, and bloggers seemed pretty split. A lot of it comes down to why a you got into Indycar, and racing in general. What do you want out of it? Certainly some cracks in the fan base were on display.

Outside of the quality of the racing what was most clear was how good Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power, and Ed Carpenter were this race. Power was dominant early. Only Ed Carpenter could stay with him, and even Ed could barely do that. Ed did manage to pass Power on track as the two entered traffic. Carpenter led into the final pistops under green. Ed’s pitstop was fine. Will Power on the other hand got caught speeding on his entrance to pit road. Considering Indycar’s have pit road speed limiters the fact Power has done this at both Indy and Texas is actually somewhat impressive. What appeared to happen is that Power did not slow down enough before he entered pit road and turned the limiter on.

Because of how spread out the field was, Will Power’s green flag speeding penalty wasn’t that bad. While it appeared to take him out of contention for a win, he only dropped to 6th place. Considering Ryan Hunter Reay was out of the race this wasn’t a terrible result. Ed Carpenter then stretched a massive lead out. Tony Kanaan had a decent race and was in second until Juan Pablo Montoya passed him and took over 2nd position. Ed completely checked out on the field. He was over 14 seconds ahead of Montoya when a caution came out for an engine failure by Takuma Sato with 7 laps to go. While many feared the race would end under caution, it did not. What happened instead breathed a bit of (anti-climatic) excitement into this race. The field is set by how they are scored. In other words the lap down cars were set behind the lead lap cars. Since there were only six cars on the lead lap this meant that they had the potential to pit and have fresh tires for the final two lap shootout.

This was by the way incredibly NASCAR. Seriously, that is what happens during Green White Checkers finishes. Someone always pits to try and make up position by charging through the field with fresh tires. Will Power and Simon Pagenaud took tires and tried this gamble.  The start was rather messy; it was a typical spread out Indycar start. Ed may have jumped the start. At least that is what Juan Pablo Montoya accused him of. On fresh tires Power managed to charge to 2nd while Pagenaud topped out at 4th. Ed still managed to finish over a half second ahead of Power despite the worn tires.

As an Ed Carpenter fan I was very glad to see him win this. I was a bit conflicted as I really did want him to win, but also wanted a close finish. We did not get a terribly close finish, though there was more drama than anticipated before the yellow. While I was unimpressed with the race, Ed’s win really should shut the Carpenter haters up. He’s won three oval races. At Kentucky it was a flat out duel. At Fontana he won in the era of draft and pass. And at Texas he won a race where the main opponent was the track and the car. By the way, his three career wins put him ahead of Rahal, Andretti, or Danica. Ed has carved out a powerful niche for himself as a driver. And his team has shown it can win on ovals and street courses. If they could only cut down on some of the errors they’ve made and the bad luck they easily could have had four or five wins this year. That is crazy to think about. Ed needs a second, full time and fully funded car because with the right driver there is no reason they could not contend for the championship.

Andretti Autosport struggled and had major engine problems. Both Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter Reay failed to finish due to engine problems. James Hinchcliffe had a poor handling car which saw him drop multiple laps. Honda powered cars struggled; Sam Schmit carried the day for them as Pagenaud finished 4th and Alishen finished 7th. Newgarden finished 11th, Rahal 12th, and Munoz 13th as well. Helio finished off the lead lap in 8th while Dixon and Kanaan were the last drivers on the lead lap.

In the end I’m sorry, but this race was boring. It sucked. I was not entertained. A 10+ second lead on an oval usually is not a good sign. Whether this is how it used to be or not is irrelevant to me. Races like what we saw at Texas were not why I got into Indycar. I got into Indycar for wheel to wheel action and high speeds. Somehow Indycar managed to lose both at Texas! Although I would be happy to see the packs back, that is not the only way to get close racing. We have seen close racing at Indy and Fontana. Something along those lines would have been great at Texas. I really could care less if that makes me a bad person, fan, or blogger. What we saw at Texas was not acceptable; it was not Indycar. I hope changes are made; I hope that one day Texas can again become one of the most highly anticipated races of the year, instead of one what we got this year, and last year, and the year before that. I do not necessarily have confidence that will happen. Hopefully Iowa,  Milwaukee, Pocono, and Fontana produce better racing than what we just saw. They should, but you never know how much downforce the drivers will try and get taken off (RE: Iowa last year). The risk of another Texas hangs over the series head.

Final side note, I’m not (just) being sarcastic when I say people who enjoyed what we saw at Texas would enjoy NASCAR either. The Coke 600 and the Texas 600 were incredibly similar races, for better or for worse.

2014 Belle Isle Grand Prix’s In Review

This Article Also Appears on WFOpenWheel.com 

Belle Isle. It is not a place famed for great racing. The track has had some major layout changes which were designed to make the racing better. Could the DW-12, double headers, and new layout rewrite the narrative about Belle Isle? That depends on who you ask. The racing was much better than the old Belle Isle; unlike some of the pre-DW-12 Indycar road races the top five after qualifying were not the same at the end of the race. On the other hand the races were largely stratagey based. There was hope for a close battle for the lead; the reality was a lot of anti-climax. The race was O.K. The question is whether or not just O.K racing is good enough. Many people will say it is, but I am not quite so sure.

Double Header Format: The double header format is used by Indycar at a few of the street courses. Promoters and people who attend the races are big supporters of it. Drivers and teams however often find the format very challenging as it pushes them to their limits in terms of physical, mental, and logistical capabilities. I am not know as a major advocate of the teams interests, but I too have mixed feelings on the double headers. As a blogger I find them a bit confusing in terms of coverage. With two races (plus the other races I watch over the weekend) trying to remember who did what to who can be a bit tough. There is also an issue of time management for fans watching with two races. The ABC races are thankfully uploaded to ESPN 3. Plus, does anyone really want to watch two races at Belle Isle? If Indycar were to try this format at another track, like hypothetically Michigan International Speedway or Road America, or Iowa or even the Indy GP, maybe it would be a bit easier to judge. Another thought is that if Indycar is going to run two races a weekend, perhaps they should run a shorter race? Most other series which run double header formats (Pirelli World Challenge, AMA Pro Racing) run two sprint races over the course of the weekend.

Fighting for the Lead: I was a bit disappointed with the amount of action for the lead. Yeah there were a couple passes (Conway, Briscoe) but overall it was pretty much pass in the pits. Or in the case of race 2, watch Helio sail off into the distance. Rahal and Power had an interesting finish, but can you really call it a great battle when Rahal never passed him, or even came up to his side? I would say no, you can’t. There were some good battles on track, but for the lead they were very rare and mostly strategy based. There was a lot of anti-climax both in race 1 and also in race 2. Race 2 was especially bad as two late race restarts saw… absolutely nothing happen for the lead. Whether Power was hanging aback on purpose or simply not fast enough, Helio won unopposed. Before one pitstop Helio had a 38 second lead, and until the yellow flag had over 9 seconds on Power. Power did not challenge Helio at all on either restart. Some people say they want to see the best car win. Be that as it may, watching someone win so easily does not make for compelling television.

On Track Battles: The race did have some good battles for position. The contrast with the old Indycar is clear. Another interesting thing I noticed was the ability to pass in unusual areas. I feel a lot less negatively about RHR’s wreck at Long Beach after seeing some of the risky passing attempts work at Belle Isle. That was good, and ABC actually showed us some of the action in the field. Rahal in race 1 and Power in race 2 provided the most excitement/passing and enjoyment. The divergent strategies at times helped and at times hindered the on track action. In the end the race was not what I would call action packed, and most of the passing appeared to be done in the pits, but it was not as bad as some of the past Indycar races at Sonoma and Edmonton where the top five after qualifying were the same top five, in the same order, at the end of the race.

James Hinchcliffe, Qualifying Vs Racing: As a James Hinchcliffe fan 2014 has been a bit disappointing. Hinch has drastically improved his qualifying but the actual races have been more challenging. Hinchcliffe has started 2nd five times this year, but has a single top five to show for it. No podiums either. Hinchcliffe might have got a podium on Sunday however as he tried to pass Kimball on the last lap he got pushed into the wall. Hinch survived for a 5th place finish however. Belle Isle was a fairly good weekend for Hinchcliffe; he was the best Andretti car. Hopefully he’ll build on this for a great comeback in the 2nd half of the year.

Will Power’s Contact Filled Weekend: Contact was the name of Will Power’s weekend. He struggled both days in qualifying, only to be much more competitive when the race started. However he also made contact on both days. First with Pagenaud which has led to an escalation of their rivalry. Then on Sunday he made a massive dive which took out Newgarden and Rahal. This gave Power a drive through  penalty. Power has certainly become a polarizing driver this season. He also finished 1st and 2nd which allowed him to retake the points lead.

Ryan Hunter Reay Disaster: Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Belle Isle weekend started off well as he led in first practice. Then he made contact with the wall in second practice, and never looked back. Qualifying was a disaster both days. Both races were disasterous as well. Race 1 would have been an average finish had he not crashed on the final lap. Race 2 saw mechanical issues take him out of the race. At least he won the Indy 500, and got the double points.

Rahal Redemption: Graham Rahal entered Belle Isle as the only full time driver without a single top ten. Race 1 from Belle Isle changed this. Rahal finished second. Race 2 had him get wrecked by Will Power at the start and he never recovered, ultimately either crashing or suffering mechanical failure depending on who you ask. More importantly than just finishing 2nd was the fact Rahal made legitimate on track passes and fought hard. He looked like a real racer. Now if only Rahal can carry this forward. I was re-watching the epic 2009 Chicagoland race the other day and Rahal was very competitive their as well. If he could just get it together Graham could be a threat everywhere.

Unlikeable Rookies: I’ve changed my mind on Hawksworth to a point. But I still can’t stand Alishen or Huertas. I also find the cheering of these two, from fans, journalists, and announcers a bit disturbing. Indycar does not need a sanctioned Russian bank sponsored ride buyer or random Colombian to win races. It is fine to talk about them, but when they get large amounts of airtime then there may be a problem. Instead lets focus that positive energy on more deserving people, like Newgarden, Rahal, Pippa, Servia, Karam, ect.

Is This A Strategy Game? I accept that strategy is part of racing. But I do not think that strategy should be the main part of racing, and this year Indycar seems to have had way more strategy than on track action. ABC’s covered the Indy GP, Indy 500, and both races at Belle Isle. I have heard more about fuel savings and race strategy over the course of these races than I’d care to. Indy GP was a pure strategy race, and had we not seen the yellow at lap 150 the Indy 500 would have been the same. Belle Isle saw a lot of strategy as well, though I believe in race 2 the strategy was somewhat negated by the final couple of yellows. I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable race fan, and I understand at least part of the strategies used, but I honestly could not give a full recap of the race and explain who used what strategy and for what reasons. Great way to attract new fans, right? I am fine with some strategy and an occasional fuel mileage race, but it feels like that is the default setting for Indycar, and that is a problem. I do not know of a solution though I really think removing the fuel knob would help. It would make fuel saving more driver reliant, and less predictable. If I wanted a strategy game, I’d go to MatrixGames.com!

ABC’s Best Broadcast: Belle Isle was ABC’s best broadcast. They were much better on showing racing through the field than at any other ABC race. Certainly much improved over the Indy GP where they only showed the leaders. Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear are not good commentators. They aren’t as annoying as the Waltrip brothers, but Goodyear and Cheever do not add a lot to the booth. They also make odd comments, fight with each other, and still seem to have some grudges and resentments from their racing careers. All of this negatively impacts their ability to commentate. They also have a basic information issue. They at times do not understand the rules as well as Alan Beswick or Pippa Mann. Can someone please replace them? Preferably NOT Dario. I guess if Dario does get it, that is okay as long as he doesn’t complain about safety, close racing, ovals, or show pro-Ganassi favoritism. Much more preferably, get Paul Tracy, or another likable driver who wants to commentate.

Fence Climbing: Helio won the pole both days, and won the second race. Helio’s was very fast all weekend. Every year, people want to write off Helio. Every year, Helio wins races. Last year he contended for the title and it appears this year he will be in the thick of the fight for the championship as well. Power usually gets the accolades for being faster at road and street courses so Helio’s win and the speed he showed over Power could be a major sign of improvement from Helio. Will 2014 be Castroneves’s year for his first Indycar title? Also Helio reminds me of a celebrity chef. I mean that as a compliment, by the way. I don’t really watch those shows, but I know people who do and have thus seen a number of them. Helio’s personality would fit if he were a celebrity chef. Since those shows and those chefs are more watched than Indycar this is not a bad thing. Perhaps that should be his next reality TV venture.

  Race Control and Penalties: While many people are upset with Race Control, I am not. Less is more when it comes to penalties, especially on the tracks Indycar runs. If drivers don’t push and make high risk moves, what would we have had left at Belle Isle? Even more fuel savings and strategy. I like what Barfield is doing and hope that minimalist penalties continue.

  The Future of the Isle: Belle Isle’s future is secure. Sponsors re-upped and a multi-million dollar repaving is planned before next years race. I have very… mixed feelings on this. While I understand that it is good to have money put into Indycar, and Belle Isle is Penske’s race, it is very…. frustrating, to see money and attention put into events like Belle Isle and Barber and Mid Ohio and Sonoma rather than in tracks which produce better racing. It reminds me of a quote from Game of Thrones, “The worst ones always live.” Yes Chevrolet needs a race in Michigan, but there is a track in Jackson which has produced great open wheel racing. On top of that it is concerning that the State of Michigan, which allegedly has no money and cannot fund education, is involved in some funding for remodeling at Belle Isle. As someone who’s a Public History major, I do like to see money spent on historical places, and Belle Isle is a historical place. So I have some very mixed feelings on that one as well. Money spent on Indycar is good, but I really would like to see it at a better track. I really hope that the repaving includes some more widening and passing zones.

Overall: Belle Isle was much improved this year over some of the races ran in the past. But it still is a pretty big come down from Indianapolis. I personally did not enjoy Belle Isle. I really am not thrilled about the long term future of the place either. According to what I have read, people who went their had a great time. That is wonderful, but does not make compelling television. I hope that the repaving includes some new passing zones and that one day Belle Isle turns into a Montreal like track. I am not holding my breath.

Overall I’ve been slightly underwhelmed by Indycar this year. Outside of Barber no race has been horrible, but outside of the Indy 500 no race has been that great either. There has been an inordinate amount of fuel saving and race strategy in my personal opinion. Things have improved from the past, but there is still more that needs to be done. I do not have all the answers, but I really hope that the series continues to look for improvements and does not just give up and say things are good enough. Road and street racing can be compelling. The Pirelli World Challenge series has great racing (though Belle Isle was also a bit disappointing), Tudor United has good moments, and despite Marquez’s dominance MotoGP featured a great race for the LEAD. I started watching Indycar for exciting races and on track action, not race strategy and fuel mileage.

Now it is on to Texas. Texas has produced great Indycar races in the past, but the removal of downforce to prevent pack racing has also prevented any close racing. I hope that this year we see some classic Texas action, rather than another spread out processional race. I am not sure if I can handle another strategy/pass in the pits race.

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