Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Trip To Kentucky

I had hoped to go to several IZOD IndyCar races this year, but sadly, it looks like outside of Indy, I will only make it to Kentucky Speedway for the Kentucky Indy 300. Of course, I’m genuinely thankful I get to go to any races.

Last year at Kentucky took place under the lights, and I cheered myself hoarse, hoping Ed Carpenter would get that long-overdue victory. Although he didn’t get it, it was a tremendous weekend, getting to eat a Cracker Barrel twice, spend some time with the wife (I should probably transpose those two in order if I don’t want to get in trouble), and watching both the IndyCar race and Pippa Mann win in dominating fashion in Firestone Indy Lights.

This year, I’ll be returning to Kentucky, again bringing my wife along (babysitters are precious, precious resources). The trip is a month away, but I’m already amped for it. Kentucky’s one of those races that’s a perfect trip for the IndyCar fan. It’s a competitive oval, has great visibility, is a draw for part-timers you might otherwise not get to see, and there are plenty of parks and towns nearby to go on day trips as well. Last year, we ended up at the hilariously-named Big Bone Lick State Park, which was a nice way to work off some of the Cracker Barrel breakfasts.

As you grow up, get married, and start to have a host of awesome little kids running around, the road trips of your single or early married years become pretty rare things. Getting to motor around for a weekend, ending in watching a race at one of my favorite tracks? It almost seems too good to be true.

Kentucky will look different this year, with the new grandstands and the fact it’ll take place on a fall afternoon instead of evening. But that doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to it any less. If you are going to Kentucky, I hope to see you there!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sonoma Observations

Here's a couple of observations from this past weekend's Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma:

-We again have a legitimate championship fight on our hands. Will Power looked like he was almost out of this fight just a few races ago, but after winning at Sonoma, he's only 26 points back. Remember, though, the last two events of the season are ovals, which would seem to work in Dario's favor. Power needs to hope for very good weekends at both Baltimore and Motegi--or Dario to have an uncharacteristic mistake or two.

-Speaking of championships, Will Power is now only 7 points behind Dario for the Mario Andretti Road Course Trophy. It would seem like he's going to have a pretty good shot at it--first one to blink on a twisty between he and Dario will probably lose that one.

-Penske Racing hasn't gone 1-2-3 since 1994. It doesn't seem like that'd be the case, but it really has been that long. It was a great day for the Penske team, which looked very much back in prime form.

-I thought Helio might push Will Power at the end, but a) He only had 3 Push To Pass uses left to Will's 12, b) he wasn't about to wreck his teammate after his lessons earlier in the year, and c) he just didn't have the car, especially on that dirty of a track. It's not the victory he wanted, but a podium can't seem too bad right now.

-The Rookie of the Year battle couldn't be much closer right now. With another Top 10, James Hinchcliffe moves to only 3 points behind JR Hildebrand. Assuming Hinch goes to Japan, this one's definitely looking like it's going down to the wire.

-On the topic of rookies, Martin Plowman gets my votes for the Firestone Tire-riffic move of the race. Plowey did a good job all day, and his P12 represented some good on-track battling in a race that didn't have too much of it. He (along with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Kingdom Racing, and Snowball Express) should be proud of the effort.
Plowey and his car's livery both stood out Sunday.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

-I felt really bummed for Giorgio Pantano getting penalized all the way back to P17 from P6. I think a less harsh penalty could have been applied for the infraction, but there's no doubting Pantano's got real talent.

-Watching Ho-Pin Tung's racing earlier in the event, I grimly predicted he would be the first one out--his driving style just didn't seem geared towards preservation. It took until Lap 63, but Tung gave us our only yellow on the day.

-Having Simona de Silvestro stranded overseas with immigration problems has to fall directly into the "how can it get any worse?" line of querying for their season. I can't add much there, except a) I hope she's back for Baltimore, and b) it makes you hate bureaucracy just a little bit more.

-It was a rough day for Andretti Autosport, with Ryan Hunter-Reay their only driver in the Top 10. Conway faded in the second half, finishing P16, and Marco Andretti finished P24 after needing a wing replaced. Danica Patrick finished P21, and appears to be getting short-timer's with IndyCar, if her interviews and commentary are any indication.

-On a positive note, it's great to hear Marco will be rockin' the RC Cola livery in 2012. That still leaves the question of which driver will be in the GoDaddy car...and yes, Dan Wheldon's name does keep popping up.

-Overall, I think even the most die-hard fan had to admit Sonoma had a lack of on-track passing for the most part, which didn't do too much for the overall excitement level. Still, this is a race that helped tighten up the championship and Rookie of the Year battles, so there are some positive things to take away as well. Not every race is going to be non-stop thrills, but Sonoma could definitely do with a bit more in the way of passing and the like if the series returns there.

-On the plus side, I heard nothing but good things about race attendance, and Infineon remains big for schmoozing sponsors. I'm not sure if the race will be back yet next year (I personally think it's about 50/50), but let's hope the new cars, engines, and perhaps a couple of tweaks to the track make the race as appealing as the Sonoma weather and landscape.

-Oh, and Pippa Mann took the time to give my daughter a shoutout on Twitter for the 7th birthday. That was pretty special, and the sort of thing fans don't forget.

So, with only four races left, the series gets ready for an all-new course for the Baltimore Grand Prix. We'll see what news we hear in the lead-up to that this weekend!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma Preview

After a week that saw the New Hampshire results upheld, Will Power be fined $30k (or community service) for his Double Birds, Danica Patrick announce her long-expected move to NASCAR, and yours truly laid low with the worst allergy/sinus/possible plague scenario I’ve known in a good while, we happily, blessedly, cheerfully prepare to follow this weekend’s Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to listen to some IMS Radio, watch some VERSUS TV coverage, and hopefully watch Robin Miller sprint during another Grid Walk.

Let’s hit a few key items to pay attention to this race weekend:

The Birdman of IndyCar: If you’re discussing Infineon, you have to start with Will Power. He’s the defending race winner here, but this is also where he broke his back in 2009. It’s been either the highest highs or lowest lows for him here. If he wants to keep gaining on Dario Franchitti for that series championship, he can’t afford a letdown.

Of course, we’ll also have to see what sort of attention Power’s double-bird tirade at New Hampshire gets this weekend. The Driver Who Spawned An Internet Meme will likely get some questions about it, though he’s been relatively conciliatory in recent interviews on the topic.

Hometown Hero: JR Hildebrand is from Sausalito, California, and Infineon Raceway is his home track. He’s won here in Lights, and this might be his best remaining chance outside of the ovals to try and put the screws to James Hinchcliffe in the Rookie of the Year battle.

How Does Newman/Haas Respond?: With Ryan Hunter-Reay’s New Hampshire victory upheld after the appeal this week, it will be interesting to see how Newman/Haas Racing comes back from the denial of their case that Oriol Servia was the rightful winner. This team handled themselves with dignity through the process, and now we get to see if karma respects that. Is any team (with the exception of possibly KV Racing) as close to getting over the hump and getting that win than Newman/Haas? If so, it doesn’t feel like it.

A New Winner?: We’re getting closer and closer to the end of the season, and as mentioned above, KV Racing and Newman/Haas still haven’t found that win. Keep in mind Tony Kanaan’s had a lot of good performances at this track (winner in ’05, has 4 Top 10s as well), but teammates Takuma Sato and EJ Viso will have to up their game from previous outings at this track.

New(ish) Faces: It’s a full field this week, and among those entries are Ho-Pin Tung and Martin Plowman. Tung was impressive at Indianapolis up until his qualification run crash, so it’ll be great to see what he can do for Dragon Racing this weekend in the #88 car. Meanwhile, Martin Plowman returns for his second race with AFS. His run at Mid-Ohio saw him start well behind where he wanted to, but he kept it clean and made some moves up the field. It’s always good to remember with some of the part-time deals that they’re not just racing for this year, but for next.

Hunter-Reay’s Mojo: Over the last four races, no driver has gained more points than RHR. With his New Hampshire win confirmed this week, he now sets his sights on a track where he’s only finished in the Top 10 once. We’ll have to see if he can keep his hot streak going, or if Sonoma sees him dropping back to earth a bit.

Bourdais Surging: Speaking of mojo, Sèbastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing have looked much better the last few races. You have to think this is far more along the lines of what the 4-time CCWS champ was thinking when he signed on with Coyne. We’ll see if Sebas can keep the good finishes coming.

Penske Pressure: As the races go by without a win from the other two Penske drivers, it looks more and more likely that Will Power will be the only Penske driver to record a win this season, a concept that was nigh-inconceivable a few months ago. Infineon offers a nice chance, though: Briscoe has always run well here, and Helio won from the pole here in ’08.

Best Looking Car: Tough call, but I really love the Marco Andretti  #26 Snapple car. I’m glad we get to see it again:

It's Snap-Tastic!
 Pole Prediction: I gotta go with the Toowoomba Terror, Mr. Will Power.

Winner Prediction: I sort of hope it’s Will Power, just for the interview. But for my dark horse, I’m going with Mike Conway, risky as that’s been to do lately. I think he’s got at least one more very good finish in him this year.

If You Missed It: Check out my Q&A with Charlie Kimball over at INDYCAR Nation. As always, registration is free! Oh, and make sure you check out Paul Dabley's article--great, great stuff!

Also, my oldest daughter turns 7 this weekend! She’s my IndyCar buddy, so hopefully I can line up some IndyCar birthday wishes for her. Have a great weekend, cherish what you have, and enjoy the race!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Under The Weather

Sorry folks, no update today. I’m under the weather, and if I don’t hallucinate Tom Sneva driving around my living room while dancing pork tenderloins frolic, I’ll be doing better than expected. I’ll be waiting to hear the results of the New Hampshire race appeal, so expect something on that after it happens.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Regarding Danica

If there's one question I've been asked about IndyCar in the last week, it's been "so, what do you think of Danica's move to NASCAR?" Depending on when they've caught me, my response has ranged from a generic shrug to a detailed and nuanced explanation of why I believe it might be for the best.

Of course, we've seen the gamut of responses, from the somewhat giddy speculations on the boon to NASCAR to the good riddances/good luck of her non-fans in IndyCar. I think both extremes miss on what this really means for Danica, NASCAR, and the IZOD IndyCar Series.

First, this announcement highlighted a lot of what is wrong with ESPN (minus Oreo's excellent article on the topic). I don't think there was anyone in the IndyCar paddock who thought Danica wasn't going to Nationwide last year; it was taken as a matter of course. Yet ESPN, which has not exactly endeared itself to IndyCar fans with it's Danica-centric coverage superseding any actual IndyCar happenings, again worked as the arbiter of when news became news. The giddy, celebratory coverage seemed the mark of an entertainment network pushing their newest star, not a sports outlet reporting actual news. Of course, that's not a surprise to any who has watched ESPN lose much of their remaining journalistic integrity as a network over the past decade plus.

Although it's entirely possible GoDaddy will still have a minor sponsorship presence in IndyCar next year, I doubt we'll see them on the level we saw this year. I'm not personally a fan of GoDaddy's advertising style, but of course sponsorship in the series is always a good thing. I do think Andretti Autosport will find sponsorship to compensate--just as they've found names like Sun Drop, DHL, and most recently, Buffalo Wild Wings, which hopefully blossoms into a bigger deal for Michael Andretti's guys.

As for Danica herself, depending on who you talk to, she's either an ice queen or a sweet girl swept up in the intensity of racing. Again, I don't really like caricatures of who or what people are. We see one side or another; very few people are all one thing or all another. I'm sure sometimes she's as nice as can be; other times she's probably abrasive. I always think of times where people have caught me at a bad moment or a stressful time; uniform pleasantness and courtesy probably has not been by M.O. in those cases. I'm sure Danica's no different.

(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
For IndyCar, it doesn't help losing some of the exposure Danica will bring, but there seems to be a feeling that  she had peaked in the series as a driver. She had some wonderful moments, but especially in the past two seasons, she just hasn't looked as sharp, for whatever reasons you may ascribe. Further, the series has three engine manufacturers, a new car, and young talent such as Hinchcliffe, Rahal, and Hildebrand to manage. No, they don't have the star power wattage of Danica, but no one will. The important thing is that they're generally relatable, potentially marketable, and not cookie-cutter corporate cut-outs. The series is building rivalries, it's building up the stories and accomplishments of new faces as well.

For many of the fans, there is perhaps some sadness (though certainly the fanbase has grown more fractured, with her 2010 IndyCar Pole Day moment an audible breaking point), but also some sense of relief despite her popularity. Danicamania made much of the coverage, especially on ABC/ESPN, frustrating to watch. If Danica was running up front, all good and well she would be covered. If she were three laps down in P20, she would still get a healthy chunk of air time, which was frustrating when there was a battle up front. It seemed as if VERSUS began to dial down their coverage of Patrick this year to normalized levels, and the coverage was much improved for it. Does her absence hurt with the casual fan? Very possibly, but the series needs to find other ways to bring in new fans than focusing on one driver. They painted themselves in the corner by the hyper-focus on Danica, but I don't think they've been blind to the fact other avenues of outreach are needed.

Danica will do just fine for herself in NASCAR, whether she wins some races or tools around mid-pack. Andretti Autosport will endure, and will press on in the excitement of the changes 2012 is sure to bring that team. The IZOD Indycar Series will endure, with hopes resting not on Danica, but on a new engine competition, a new car, and a new generation of drivers.

Danica Patrick will leave a mixed legacy in IndyCar, and it might be a while until we really can look back and see the true goods and ills of the Danica Era in American open-wheel racing. For 2012, though, we've got our hands full with plenty of news already. That sort of retrospective is going to have to wait.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rookie of the Year Update, Post-New Hampshire Edition

Time for an updated look at the Rookie of the Year competition. With only five races left, things have tightened up considerably. It really looks like it’s the JR and Hinch Show, but either way, I’d bet it’s coming down to the wire.

1) JR Hildebrand (P13, 234 points)
Let’s face it, the DNF at New Hampshire hurt. Ovals are supposed to be a Panther specialty, and combined with Hinch’s P4, missing out the points here made Hinch within a race’s striking distance. Fortunately, Hildebrand and Panther have actually done pretty nicely on several road and street courses, and I like Hildebrand racing on his native soil next week.

2) James Hinchcliffe (P17, 217 points)
Hinch looked great at New Hampshire. You have to think if he hadn’t missed that first race if he’d be in first place in the Rookie of the Year standings right now. There was a time where I really thought Hildebrand had eclipsed Hinch this year, but now it looks like it’s at least a toss-up.

3) Charlie Kimball (P19, 182 points)
CK isn’t actually out of the running for Rookie of the Year yet, though it seems as if he’d needs some luck and some great results to make it happen. Still, with Mid-Ohio and New Hampshire, it seems like we’re starting to see some of the measured improvement we’ve been hoping for over the course of the season. I think you’ll see him grab at least one or two more Top 10s this year.

4) Ana Beatriz (P22, 157 points)
I often think when we look at Bia’s points, we forget she missed the race at Barber. Still, at this point I think many of us expected some breakout performance from her. It’s been rough, and a bit underwhelming so far. I’d love nothing more than to see her really step it up in the last few races.

5) Sebastian Saavedra (P23, 145 points)
Saavedra hung tough at New Hampshire, a race where many drivers simply didn’t finish with car intact. Expectations are generally tempered with Conquest, but the team’s had an uptick in DNFs this year overall. That speed Saavedra showed in bits and pieces here and there has been dormant most of the year.

6) James Jakes (P24, 138 points)
Very little was expected from Jakes this year, and even less on the ovals. Despite that, he looked pretty solid at New Hampshire before a bad gearbox ruined his day. With the Coyne team coming on relatively strong toward year’s end, it’s not improbable to think he sneaks into the Top 10 one of these races.

Jakesy: Don't count him out yet.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

How do I think it will end? Honestly, I think Jakes has a chance to move in front of Saavedra, though it will be close. I see Bia and Kimball staying where they are (although I think Charlie will make that ROY battle slightly closer in the end). As far as Hildebrand and Hinch, I think both are great for the series. I’ve waffled so many times on this, but I think have to back to Hinch edging out JR, but I think it’ll be close. It’s great to have some young, truly competitive talent in the series.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Celebrate What Ya Got

It's been a week, hasn't it?

We had the chaotic finish at New Hampshire, the delay of aero kits until 2013, Tony Kanaan and engineer Mike Cannon parting ways, and ESPN reporting for the 17th time in the past year that Danica Patrick is headed to NASCAR next season (insert sarcastic "really?" here). In short, it's been the sort of week that raises tempers, invites vitriol, and sees a metric ton of hyperbole employed (see what I did there?).

I have to alternately thank and curse by blogging amigo Tony Johns at Pop Off Valve; he pretty much nailed the article I wanted to try and write about some of the fan unrest we're seeing. I will, however, add a few of my own thoughts:

I think sometimes we get so caught up in the moment, we see every controversy or issue as the Worst Thing Ever, forgetting that open wheel racing in America (heck, racing in general) has never been short of controversy, rough finishes, or setbacks (how soon the 1981 Indy 500, the '82 Cogan crash, the first US 500, Eddie Sachs being slugged by Parnelli at the 1963 awards banquet, and so many more rough spots are forgotten!).

Passion's a great thing. If fans didn't care about the New Hampshire finish, that'd be a bad sign in and of itself. But I think it can be taken too far. There's nothing wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve, but you've got to look at the good with the bad.

We've got a new generation pouring into this series, talent like James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, and JR Hildebrand. We just had a once-in-a-lifetime Indy 500, and we can look forward for some track records to fall with the new engine and car next year. We can still go to races and see legendary names like Foyt, Andretti, Rahal, Rutherford, and Mears. We've got great prospects in the pipeline like Josef Newgarden and Connor De Phillippi.

Honestly, we're just supremely blessed to have what we have. The Indiana State Fair tragedy of this past week really hit hard with me. Suddenly, arguing over aero kits or Danica leaving seemed pretty secondary.

I remember being deployed overseas, homesick, miserable, as far away from Indianapolis as was geographically possible, and thinking of how much I missed growing up with the 500 in the background. I was an Indy native, and it really took having it removed from my life for awhile before I appreciated what I had.

Let IndyCar hear you and your opinions, but realize you only get to see so many races, so many seasons along the way. There's something to be said for having a thankful heart, an appreciation for the good things, and the long view of history. I don't always do that, but I'm going to try harder than ever to ensure I keep it in mind.

IndyCar can be rocky, but that doesn't mean it doesn't also rock. We are blessed in so many ways--let's not lose sight of the roses among the thorns.

OK, to make up for the preachiness, here's a totally awesome video of TK knocking over an outhouse, just in case you missed it the first time:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

IndyCar Driver Popularity: Changes In The Air?

Before the 2011 season began, I conducted a survey over at TrackForum to see who the most popular IZOD IndyCar Series drivers were. At the time, the Top 10 list looked like this (number of points in parantheses):

1) Simona de Silvestro (54)
2) Ryan Hunter-Reay (43)
3T) Tony Kanaan (42)
3T) Graham Rahal (42)
5) Will Power (39)
6) Helio Castroneves (32)
7) Paul Tracy (30)
8) Justin Wilson (29)
9T) Ed Carpenter (26)
9T) Dario Franchitti (26)

Of course, TrackForum is relatively for your hardcore fans; Danica Patrick could only manage a tie for P13, behind both Tomas Scheckter and Vitor Meira.

Here's some thoughts on driver popularity right now:

-I don't plan on running another poll until after the season is over, but I'm thinking the list will look much different after the season than before it. For one, I have to think James Hinchcliffe will be front and center on many lists; with over half a season with Hinch in the books, he definitely seems to have found his spot as IndyCar's new clown prince (the fact he's locked in a great Rookie of the Year battle with JR Hildebrand doesn't hurt).

Yeah, he's silly. He's also one heck of a driver.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
-Speaking of Hildebrand, I have to think his stock his gone up. He handled the disappointment of his unbelievable Indy 500 crash with as much grace and class as any driver could have. If he wasn't on fan radars before, he has to be now.

-Paul Tracy has been very quiet after the Trackforum/Twitter hacking incident; it's hard to tell after a disappointing season if the Chrome Horn has tarnished with the fans, or dulled without that normal line of communication PT usually kept open. We'll have to see if he remains as popular with the fans after all is said and done.

-Tomas Scheckter just missed the Top 10 on the list, but has remained very visible, with a battle with Graham Rahal on Twitter, breathtaking passes at Indy and New Hampshire, and a pretty high visibility for a guy only running a few races this year. TScheck seems to be one of those guys that fans either love or despise, so it's hard to get a read on where he's at.

-Pippa Mann got big cheers at Indy, but her New Hampshire experience was one she'd rather forget. Does she retain her popularity if the rest of her season goes south?

-Simona de Silvestro seemed to be everyone's favorite last year, but she's struggled badly at times this year. Will the memory of her incredibly gutsy drive to make the field, along with her winning personality keep her near the top?

-What about Ryan Hunter-Reay? He's often mentioned as the best or one of the best Americans in the field, and he's come on strong in the last month or so. Does he keep that popularity, and does IndyCar start giving us some RHR decals and diecasts?

-I've seen less and less negativity and a bit more praise in regards to Takuma Sato. He's still inconsistent and too crash-prone, which drives people nuts, but I think he's definitely finding his niche with fans. I don't think he'll ever have the popularity of a Kanaan or de Silvestro, but I think a lot of fans are finding him a pretty easy guy to cheer for all the same.

Sato's 2nd season: Up and down, but gaining fans?
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
-At best, Helio Castroneves has been quiet this year; at worst, he's seen way too many incidents on-track. The charismatic driver usually manages to get his victories in at some point during the year, but if this extended funk continues, does he drop in terms of fan support?

-I suppose the big question is how Will Power and Dario Franchitti are doing in terms of fan support. Will has been a show to watch in terms of reactions and interviews this year, and even after the New Hampshire Double Bird, it seemed like more fans than not embraced him. Franchitti on the other hand, is acknowledged as an incredible talent, but Twitter went absolutely wild when he crashed out on Sunday. Whether it's his dominance, his complaints interviews, or something else, he seems to be not exactly in high regard from a vocal portion of the fan base right now. Make no mistake, both he and Will have the adherents, but I just wonder how it's changed since before the season started.

My gut feeling? In terms of driver popularity, Power's up, Dario's down somewhat. Both James Hinchcliffe and Oriol Servia are on the way up. Paul Tracy will be down a bit. Guys like Justin Wilson and Ed Carpenter are universally regarded as Good Dudes, and probably won't do anything to drop in popularity. Scheckter is Scheckter, which means nothing would surprise me. Danica is probably treading water, with perhaps a slight drop in anticipation of NASCAR in 2012. TK is a great underdog story, and will stay popular. I think if Ryan Hunter-Reay continues on this tear he's on, that can only help nudge him up. As for our preseason champ Simona, I think she's still very much a fan favorite despite (and in some cases such as Indy, due to) her struggles.

Overall, when all is said and done after the season, I think we'll see some new faces among the fan favorites in IndyCar.

Monday, August 15, 2011

New Hampshire: The Field Rundown

I have thought and thought about how to approach reporting about yesterday, and I finally decided a field rundown, one sentence per driver.

1) Ryan Hunter-Reay
While this race will be remembered for the madness, RHR had a great race in his own right.

2) Oriol Servia
Though he felt he was perhaps the winner, his P2 was still exceedingly impressive.

3) Scott Dixon
Many people seemed to think Dixie would be the man to beat this weekend, but he didn't quite have enough overtake Servia or RHR.

4) James Hinchcliffe
Hinch turned in a sterling performance, and gained some valuable ROY points along the way.

5) Will Power
Sure, he'll get fined for flipping Race Control the bird, but having his P5 finish restored will take some of the hurt away.

6) Danica Patrick
Danica was really moving in the last half of the race for one of her better finishes of the year.

7) Takuma Sato
Sato was just a little more rain away from that first win.

8) Ryan Briscoe
They hardly discussed Briscoe all day, but it wasn't a terrible result.

9) Charlie Kimball
CK proved me wrong this week, as his rookie campaign continues to get stronger.

10) Vitor Meira
The Foyt team again sneaks into the Top 10 .

11) Ed Carpenter
Sarah Fisher Racing was slow all weekend, but Carp was the picture of perseverance.

12) EJ Viso
Managed to finish the race, but Panther Racing claimed they were "Viso-ed".

13) Alex Lloyd
Alex always gets the most out of what he has to work with.

14) Ana Beatriz
It wasn't the Top 10 she's been chasing, but a pretty respectable outing for Bia.

15) Sebastian Saavedra
He kept it clean and green, and was rewarded by his best result since Brazil.

16) Simona de Silvestro
She finished 6 laps down, but getting that oval confidence back is what's important right now.

17) Helio Castroneves
Helio's 200th start turned out to be a disappointment.

18) James Jakes
Looked really sharp before being doomed by a faulty gearbox.

19) Alex Tagliani
His car caught fire.

20) Dario Franchitti
That was a waste of one of the most dominating performances we've seen all year.

21) JR Hildebrand
Don't look now, but Hinch is closing fast (-17) in the rookie of the year battle.

22) Tony Kanaan
Yes, he destroyed an outhouse.

23) Tomas Scheckter
Passed a metric ton of people on restarts, but threewide didn't work with TK and Marco.

24) Marco Andretti
A frustrating end to a sub-par weekend.

25) Mike Conway
His "bad races" this year are piling up, unfortunately.

26) Graham Rahal
If it wasn't for bad luck, he wouldn't have any right now.

27) Pippa Mann
Four spins and an injury isn't what fans wanted for the popular rookie.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A New Hampshire Weekend: Will vs. Dario

With the New Hampshire weekend upon us, we're again looking at a big step in our IZOD IndyCar Series championship battle. In one corner is Will Power, reeling after another bout of poor luck at Mid-Ohio. In the other corner is Dario Franchitti, riding high after another podium and always a threat to win on the ovals.

Power's sole oval win has come with a slight assist by a random position draw at Texas. On paper, it looks like this very well could be the week Dario completely pulls away from Power in the series championship.

From Thursday's practice, it looks like Dario should again be upfront. We'll have to see what Penske's hand holds, but this is a race where we should see plenty of competition from teams such as KV Racing, Andretti, and Newman/Haas.

We're getting to the point where it isn't enough for Power to place well; he needs to place well AND finish in front of Franchitti. That's going to be a tall order on this short oval. 

So, we go into New Hampshire, knowing Will Power's margin for error is slim to none. A DNF here could put him behind in an insurmountable way. Ovals aren't forgiving, and we're going into an unfamiliar one to boot. We'll see what Power has left for this season, or if another chance at the championship will fade away.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thoughts On The New INDYCAR/ABC TV Deal

It’s been an exceedingly busy week for IndyCar news: Tomas Scheckter replaces Justin Wilson for New Hampshire, Pippa Mann and Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing signed additional sponsorship with National Tire and Battery, and yesterday, word surfaced of a new multi-year television deal with ABC.

So, what do we know? For starters, it’s through 2018, the same as the Versus deal. ABC will still broadcast the Indy 500 and four additional races. From what we hear, there was a nice bump in the price from ABC/ESPN as well.

Of course, you have to acknowledge the fact that although it’s nice to get paid and have a network partner, ABC and ESPN have a lot of work to do if they want coverage you’d consider “good”. There’s a reason there’s some fan discontent with this deal. Right now, there isn’t enough depth to their coverage. (What we wouldn’t give for a Paul Page or a Jack Arute on that team!) The ABC broadcast team also seems to lack the animation and passion of their VERSUS counterparts.

True, VERSUS broadcasts aren’t always the most polished of affairs, but by gum do they have the passion for IndyCar down. You get the feeling that whole broadcast team is really into what’s going on. It was also a brilliant idea to bring Dan Wheldon into the booth, as he gave us some of the best driver analysis we’ve seen in ages. They also give us a pre-race with plenty of explanation, interviews, and examination of more than just the same handful of drivers.

All too often, ABC races (and IndyCar races in general) get next to no coverage on ABC’s broadcast partner ESPN. The IICS has close races, fight, crashes, and controversies galore. It would be great to see them really play them up, use them, and push to drive ratings.

One way or the other, we’ll see what ABC/ESPN does when they no longer have Danica Patrick to discuss after she jumps ship for NASCAR next year. Hopefully, the discussion isn’t all about “where’s Danica?” and focuses on the on-track action and new car. I want the Worldwide Leader to be an active, promoting, enthusiastic partner.

Present the sport with enthusiasm. Give it some depth. Identify and follow more than a single storyline. Be cognizant of the battles through the field. Credit your audience members as intelligent, interested parties. ABC/ESPN has the potential to do all these things; they just need to actually start doing them. Fan want to like your coverage; listen to that feedback and make it happen.

I’m happy ABC and ESPN decided the IZOD IndyCar Series is a worthy investment. But you wouldn’t buy a house and then fail to make the improvements needed to make living their bearable. Let’s hope that ABC decides that IndyCar is worth investing in, by means of a passionate, talented broadcast team, quality analysis, and a concerted publicity effort. New cars are coming, just as a new wave of drivers cement their places in the series to compete with the veterans. It’d be great to see a new page turned in the coverage to support that.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Do You Like The Look Of The 2012 IndyCar?

Yesterday at Mid-Ohio, Dan Wheldon tested the 2012 Dallara IndyCar for the first time. Of course, opinion is all over the map on whether folks generally like or dislike the new design. I thought I'd put up some photos from yesterday, and simply ask people what their opinion of next year's new car is based on what we've seen. Please comment below. I'm curious to hear your thoughts!

(All images courtesy IndyCar Media)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Quick Mid-Ohio Notes

I'll be back to a full posting schedule tomorrow, but I wanted to touch base on a few things very quickly this morning:

-Congrats to Scott Dixon on his first win of the season at Mid-Ohio. We all knew it was coming at some point, and he really pulled away at the end to dominate this one. Let's not forget Ryan Hunter-Reay's podium, either; he might be on probation, but he's really turned his season around in the past 3 races.

-James Hinchcliffe missed a key opportunity to gain points on JR Hildebrand in the Rookie of the Year standings yesterday. He could have gained 20 points on JR, but instead he had to settle for only 2 after his later mistake.

-Speaking of rookies, congrats to Plowey for finishing his first IndyCar race (P18). Charlie Kimball was one mistake away from a Top 10, but looked better overall this weekend than he's looked in some time. It won't show in the results, but James Jakes looked a lot smoother overall this weekend. He's been making some progress, though it's largely outside the public eye, it seems.

-We'll find out soon if Justin Wilson is, in fact, out for the remainder of the year. You've got to feel bad for JW, who is a really nice guy as well as an amazing road racer. Whether it's Simon Pagenaud (nice job finishing P13 in his relief outing Sunday) or someone else who takes over for him for these next races, Dreyer & Reinbold's season has not been what it wanted.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Mid-Ohio Mini-Preview

I'm pretty much out of pocket this weekend, so I'm going to have to be content with a lightning dash through some of the biggest stories we should see at Mid-Ohio for the Honda Indy 200:

Homecourse Advantage: Much has been made this week of Mid-Ohio being Graham Rahal's "home" race, an idea made all the more interesting by the perception Graham is pretty much due for another win in the series. Despite any homecourse advantage, Rahal's record here hasn't been that sterling, so we'll have to watch how he responds to the pressure.

Trois Riveres: Make sure you check out the festival of racing that is the Grand Prix of Trois Riveres. It will showcase series such as Firestone Indy Lights and Star Mazda in a setting independent of IZOD IndyCar. Star Mazda even gets two races in, which should be interesting, given how close that series is. The Lights race is on Versus on Sunday--make sure you check it out to see more of this unique setting for Lights--it's great they get to be one of the main events for a change!

Probation Time: By now, we've all heard Mike Conway, Alex Tagliani, and Ryan Hunter-Reay are on probation for avoidable contact and the like. What's going to be interesting is if any other names tangle up this weekend, will they join the probation list? What if Conway or one of the other does have an incident? Seeing how far the series plans to go with this is going to be quite intriguing.

Plowey's Debut: Martin Plowman makes his IZOD IndyCar Series debut this week. If he can qualify solidly mid-pack (not out of the question given the test here), it'll be a good start for him. All the guessing and speculation will be over; we're about to see what he can do.

Coyne Comeback: Sebas Bourdais has had two very nice finishes in a row for Dale Coyne Racing. It seems like this team is really ratcheting things up in the second half of the year. We'll have to see if they can make it 3 good ones in a row.

Pole Prediction: Will Power.

Winner Prediction: It's tough to ignore Ganassi's record here. I think Dario jumps in front and stays in front.

Enjoy the race, and we'll meet back next week to break it down!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Five Big Reasons I’m Cheering For Plowey In 2011

Mid-Ohio is extra-special for me this year, because one of my favorite drivers, Martin Plowman, will finally get his chance in the “big cars” in his IZOD IndyCar Series race debut.

As part of the AFS/SSM/Kingdom Racing effort at Mid-Ohio, Infineon, and Baltimore, Plowey returns to the site of his 2010 Firestone Indy Lights victory on his way to finishing P3 in the overall standings that year. Here are 5 big reasons I'll be cheering for him throughout his 2011 campaign:

1) He’s A Good Dude
Plowey was selected earlier this year as part of the 500 Centennial Tour that visited US and UK troops deployed overseas. He’s been a big backer of the military (see some of his efforts on our sidebar, like the Wounded Warrior Project), and his partnership with the good folks at Kingdom Racing (as part of their spiritual mission) is just icing on the cake. He also has been an advocate for causes such as Karting for the Disabled. In a paddock full of good guys (and ladies), he stands tall.

2) He’s Sponsored By An Amazing Charity
Snowball Express does some amazing work, giving the children and families of our fallen heroes a wonderful trip they’ll never forget. Seriously, you can't help but tear up when you read about some of what they do. They’ll be nicely prominent on Plowey’s ride as a key sponsor for all his races in 2011, and I can think of a better car to cheer on.

3) He’ll Be Really, Really Hard To Miss
We always hear fans complain about boring liveries. The 17 car has definitely gone the other way on this one:

I don’t care if he’s racing at the front, mid-pack, or in the back, you can’t miss that design. And that’s toned down from where it was! I personally really dig the AFS red-and-yellow, and this is a cool variant on that.

4) He Was My First In-Person IndyCar Interview
He probably doesn’t remember, but when I went to the INDYCAR Winter Meetings, I stuck a recorder in front of Plowey’s face and did a short 2-3 minute interview with him. It seems like a little thing, but it was a confidence builder that gave me the feeling I wasn’t totally out of my element.

5) You Gotta Go For The Underdog
Most rookies are, by nature, underdogs to some point. Of course, predicitions are all over the map on how Plowey will do, but I’ve got faith. It's always cool to see how drivers do when they do get their chance. There's just something really awesome about seeing someone achieve their dream. It’s going to be awesome cheering on Plowey while he lives out his on Sunday.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Indy Lights: A Three-Man Battle?

It's no secret that there's a bit of an extra inducement to winning the Firestone Indy Lights championship this year. The champ will end up with a scholarship towards graduating to the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012. And while it's no guarantee of finding a spot in IICS (see Vernay, JK), it certainly helps their chances.

With five Lights races left, there are three drivers within 68 points of one another at the top. In first is Josef Newgarden, in front of his teammate Esteban Guerrieri by 63 points. Just five points behind him is Stefan Wilson, who has come on strong in the last couple of races.

Two Sam Schmidt entries (Newgarden/Guerrieri), and one Andretti (Wilson). So who will win out in the championship battle?

Josef Newgarden is definitely in the driver's seat right now. He's won four races, and outside of perhaps Toronto, hasn't really had many poor results. His biggest competition in the upcoming races might not come from the other two drivers mentioned, but from teammate Conor Daly, who takes back over the 77 car for a couple of races. Newgarden needs to make sure he's finishing races if he wants to clinch soon.

Esteban Guerrieri has shown all manner of talent in his first year, but incidents at Iowa and Edmonton are the big reason he's 63 points back. This is a guy who has won five poles, but you feel like he's left some performance on the table in the races themselves. He's going to need to find his winning ways again (and have a spot of luck) if he wants to fight back into contention with Newgarden.

Stefan Wilson is the only Indy Lights veteran of the three here, and he's had some nice breakthroughs in 2011. He grabbed his first win at Toronto, and finished P2 in the 2nd Edmonton race, but it might be too little, too late with the way the SSM cars have been racing. 68 is not an impossible gap, but it is pretty imposing nonetheless.

It's going to be interesting to see how the teams respond at Trois Rivieres this upcoming weekend. Will Newgarden pad his lead or will Guerrieri or Wilson be able to close the gap?
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