Monday, June 11, 2012

18 Notes And Thoughts On The Firestone 550

There are a few races where after you wake up the next morning, you have to ask yourself, "did that really happen?". That's where we are after a result in the Firestone 550 that absolutely no one saw coming. So, in honor of race winner Justin Wilson's #18 car, here are 18 thoughts on an absolutely amazing race:

1) It was a mix of wearing tires and the right call on the aero package that enabled the drivers to truly drive, and that call was rewarded amply Saturday night. One thing I noticed was how absolutely exhausted all the drivers looked after climbing out of their cars. It might not have been easy, but that's part of what made it so captivating.

2) There are few more likable combos to cheer for than the triad of Wilson, engineer Bill Pappas, and owner Dale Coyne. We know after Watkins Glen a couple of year ago this team can win, but seeing them do it on an oval just reinforced that while they might be considered a lower-budget team, that doesn't mean they don't have the people in place to get it done.

3) Wilson was at the top of his game Saturday night. For a driver widely pegged as a road/street specialist, he's had two really good ovals in a row now (first Indy, now Texas). It's tough not to be happy for Wilson--not only has he had some of the hardest luck in the Series the past couple of years (remember the broken back last year?), but he's widely regarded as one of absolutely nicest guys in the paddock.

4) On other other side of the coin was Graham Rahal, who looked to have this race in hand in the last few laps before his brush with the wall. He managed to save it for the P2, but it was still a big letdown for the legacy driver. I thought his interview and subsequent mea culpa after the race were all class. Rahal will have his day, and soon.

5) Scott Dixon crashed out after absolutely dominating the race, but I loved that he was really on board with the style of race we saw at Texas. If we see another like it soon, you have to like Dixie's chances.

6) OK, raise your hand if you saw Will Power gaining championship points on Dario Franchitti and Dixon this week. Yet that's exactly what happened. James Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud also got some excellent results to stay in the extended discussion for the top spot in the Series.

Well, we didn't see that one coming.
(Photo by Paul Hurley. Courtesy TrackSideOnline.com.
Used with permission). 
7) When's the last time we saw Dario Franchitti struggle on setup like that? We saw several BIG wiggles out on track, and it looked like a fight the entire time. Still, he stayed out there, and managed a P14 through attrition. That's not a championship killer, though of course it's also not the momentum he was searching for after Indy and Detroit.

8) I thought Beaux Barfield and Race Control made the correct call in assessing Will Power a penalty for blocking Tony Kanaan. TK may have had the best of the Chevy cars out there on the night, and recovering for P7 after his broken front wing ensured his overall drive was still a pretty good one.

9) Time for a big crow-eating session by Your Truly. I chose Simon Pagenaud as my Drop this week for INDYCAR Fantasy Racing, citing the depth of the field and Pags' relative oval inexperience. Well, Pags was only one of six cars on the lead lap, finishing P6. New Rule: Never doubt Pags.

10) While we're on it, let's give some credit to Wilson's teammate James Jakes, who had a nice race to grab a Top 10 finish. I scratched my head when my youngest daughter picked him in our contest this week ahead of drivers such as Oriol Servia and Dario Franchitti. Obviously, she knew something we didn't.

11) Several times Saturday night, you could see the cars bobble significantly as they cut through the wake left by a car in front of them. I really thought the NBC Sports Network coverage did a fine job in relaying just how challenging it was out there for the drivers.

12) The comments relayed from Ed Carpenter on the Ed Carpenter Racing Twitter feed showed not everyone was a fan of the racing at Texas. Whatever he thought of the racing, Ed hung in there, and before some late issues, was running towards the front of the pack. Their finish--P12--was pretty respectable.

13) I've often heard folks discuss old-style races where only a handful of cars were on the lead lap at the end as "boring" (mainly among the demographic that never experienced that type of racing). Saturday night showed precisely how there can still be a great deal of action and drama even as a big part of field ends up lapped. When cars are on the edge and mechanical issues lurk around every corner, that can happen.

14) Justin's brother, Stefan Wilson, provided some great updates on Twitter throughout the race. Getting him back in a Firestone Indy Lights car to finish what he started there needs to happen.

15) One more thought on Justin Wilson: his previous best finish at Texas was P15. Talk about a reversal of fortune!

16) Two consecutive weekends, two consecutive mechanical issues leaving Rubens Barrichello with a very early finish on the day. That won't do him any favors in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year fight.

17) Really, looking at the race, it had just about everything, didn't it? Surprises around every turn, setup struggles, well-earned passing, several stunning developments at the front of the pack, a heartbreaking missed opportunity, and an unlikely winner. Watching the replay, it wasn't just the euphoria of the unexpected; it really was just a great race.

18) Will the IZOD IndyCar Series return to Texas? I'm not sure; the relationship between track president Eddie Gossage and INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard seems chilly or strained at best, but there's no doubt that INDYCAR can put on a great show in Texas in front of a good oval crowd. Gossage can be a total pain in the butt, but hopefully his race is given the consideration it deserves.

One more note, not related to Texas, but interesting nonetheless. Congratulations to Fan Force United and Bryan Clauson on their partnership for the Lights races at Milwaukee and Iowa. I'm really happy to see Clauson sticking around American Open Wheel. Any sort of seat time he can get is valuable, and it'll be fun to see what he can manage with the FFU crew on the shorter ovals.

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