Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Stepping Stone

James Davison, it should be noted, has been linked to a couple of "potential" deals over the year, and of course his name has frequently popped up on any thorough Silly Season list. He's tested with Andretti Autosport, and has seemed pretty chummy with Ed Carpenter.

However, since 2009 (when he finished second in Firestone Indy Lights), Davison has also been in what can be referred to as Open Wheel Purgatory. Open Wheel Purgatory is a place between Firestone Indy Lights and IndyCar proper, where the perpetually near-employed scuffle, scrap, and hold out hope that they'll get a chance to show what they can do in the big cars.

Plenty of drivers have been in and out of Open Wheel Purgatory. It's not a fun place to be, I'm sure. But every now and then, a ray of light shines down, offering hope to those in limbo. That's what Davison received yesterday, getting to test at Mid-Ohio with Dale Coyne Racing. That's a course where Davison netted both of his Lights wins, albeit one in as strange a fashion as you'll see.

Now, Davison is hardly the only driver to get a test in IndyCar, and there's always a chance it won't pan out. Stefan Wilson, a fellow Open Wheel Purgatory denizen, also tested with Coyne earlier this year, and is still waiting for his shot at his rookie IndyCar debut. But the second Coyne seat has been home this year to Ana Beatriz, Pippa Mann, and Mike Conway. It would seem if there's a seat for a one or two-shot driver this season, it's that second Coyne seat (Panther's rotation seems a bit more fixed, at the moment).

That's something that's needed in IndyCar. The Ganassis, Andrettis, and Penskes might get all the mainstream attention, but there has to be a place for the drivers on the outside to get their chance. It's one of the purposes teams like Conquest Racing served, and it's one of the purposes of the rotating cast we see in the 18 car. 

Not every driver is going to pan out, and not every driver needs a full season of IndyCar for us to know it. But there's something undeniably special about a racer getting that first chance after a long time, even if it's a partial season. You never know when it could turn out to be a stepping stone to something bigger.

The list of drivers waiting for their chance in IndyCar is a big one. It's not just Davison and Wilson; it's Johnathan Summerton, Peter Dempsey, and Anders Krohn. It's drivers who have had a limited chance in IndyCar, too, with every race being absolutely invaluable to their cause. Let's see if James Davison gets his chance to take that next step.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Iowa Notebook; Or, Hinchtown=Titletown?

-Andretti Autosport doesn't own Iowa Speedway, but they might as well. They've won five of the seven IndyCar races held here, and James Hinchcliffe's performance Sunday afternoon was his strongest of his three victories this year. Ryan Hunter-Reay passed just about the entire field after having his car's nose replaced early in the race, and finished P2. In fact, every Andretti driver finished in the Top 10.

-With that in mind, let's give some consideration to Marco Andretti's day. He qualified well and finished in the Top 10, but both guys in front of him in points finished in front of him Sunday, too. He's only 55 points back, but I just keep thinking he's got a victory in him this season. Top 10s are great, but I'm sure Marco knows that's not sufficient for this title fight.

-So obviously Helio Castroneves, RHR, and and Marco Andretti are all in the thick of the title hunt, but what about Hinchcliffe? He's only 66 points behind, and has the most victories of any driver on the year. One could argue if not for mechanical issues, he could possibly be ahead of his teammates in the overall standings. Hinch isn't a "win or go home" driver, but it does seem like his results are feast or famine. Let's check back after Pocono and his home race at Toronto to see if he's put something consistent together.

-I suppose we have to discuss Ganassi's issues with the Honda engine. Chip Ganassi was extremely critical of Honda earlier this season, and after Scott Dixon had engine issue Sunday, Dixie and his wife both grumbled about their engine woes. I'm not alone in thinking we might see a Ganassi change to Chevy sometime after the season ends, if it can be worked out.

-So, is Honda behind? Some, I think, but I also don't think you can chalk up all the Ganassi troubles to engine issues. It isn't as if teams are flatly noncompetitive in Hondas--plenty of Hondas are getting good results, and Simon Pagenaud and Mike Conway both won at Detroit in one. Granted, that's not an oval, but if Dale Coyne and Sam Schmidt's teams can with with them, why can't Ganassi?

-Just as strong as Hinch this weekend was Indy Lights driver Sage Karam, who has never lost at Iowa Speedway, going all the way back to his USF2000 days. His victory Saturday gave him the Lights points lead over Carlos Munoz (-11), with Gaby Chaves (-30) and Peter Demspey (-41) still in the picture. Jack Hawksworth's podium was also a very nice comeback on the ovals. I can't wait to see what's going to happen at Pocono with these guys.

-I know we all hoped that Simona de Silvestro would have a better year post-Lotus, but it's been a rocky road since before Indy. Yesterday, I saw people assign blame to Simona, KV Racing, or a mix of the two. Honestly, I have no idea just where the issue is right now, but I certainly wish it would stop. It seems as if when Simona has a loose car, that's it, game over. There's no discernible improvement over the course of a race. I'm not looking forward to Pocono right now for the #78 team.

-Graham Rahal just missed a podium, but early on in the race, I would have marked him for the win. He had a great car early, and still hung on in the closing laps to secure a good result. It's not his best result of the year, but it was probably his best drive. Although it was also an extremely aggressive one, to boot, he stayed on the right side of the law. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will hopefully be able to build on that.

-Ed Carpenter's last stint yesterday was a thing of beauty. Ed charged ahead after a messy last pit stop to breeze past Graham Rahal for P3. It's almost as if Ed has taken a backseat somewhat since winning the Pole at Indy, but that shouldn't be the case. (FYI, for the 2nd straight year, he had the fastest race lap at Iowa). Few drivers are as steady on ovals, or as much of a joy to watch with how they adjust over the course of a race. He's going to be an absolute blast at Pocono and Fontana.

-The ABC broadcast was basically what we've come to expect from an ABC broadcast--really neat intro segments and the like, but really awkward booth dialogue. The booth team did at least seem excited about the racing, which was a nice turn, but it still lacks the polish the NBC Sports team brings. Well, enough about that. I'm sure you're as tired of hearing about it as I am of typing it.

-No matter how your favorite team or driver did this weekend, bear in mind these guys have been going non-stop since returning from Brazil at the start of May. That's a long time, and even the fittest and toughest have to be wearing down from frequent travel, late nights, and stress. So it might be a nice gesture to give them a tip of the hat on that account before the show heads to Pocono in two weeks.

-Other Notes: Another really rough day for Team Barracuda, whose season just keeps going down the wrong path. They need a really, really big week to right the ship at this point...Awesome drive for Oriol Servia in the Panther Racing car. Panther could do far worse than to keep him in the car as much as possible for the remainder of the season....10 drivers finished on the lead lap Sunday, compared to 9 last year...Congrats to IndyCar alums Martin Plowman and Bertrand Baguette for their LMP2 class victory in 24 Hours of Le Mans Sunday, and condolences to the loved ones of Allan Simonsen. Such a mixed, tragic weekend for the racing community as a whole.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Storylines: Iowa Corn Indy 250

INDYCAR makes its annual journey to Newton, Iowa this week for the Iowa Corn Indy 250. With defending Iowa winner Ryan Hunter-Reay coming off a strong victory at Milwaukee and trailing Helio Castroneves by only 16 points in the standings, this is an event where momentum could either be gained or lost very quickly.

Iowa’s always a fun race, even if it isn’t quite the same when it isn’t under the lights. The bullring is tricky, chock full of great racing, and usually lends itself to some very memorable duels. Let’s go to some of the storylines for the weekend:

Qualifying: Ok. I think I get how this works.

(Deep breath)

The biggest thing to take away is that points-wise, qualifying matters for Iowa. As in moreson than usual. Your polesitter for Iowa is going to get 9 points, P2 will get 8, and it decrease by 1 from there, with P11 and P12 getting one bonus point apiece.

So how do they get there? First off, we start with a one-lap qualifying session Saturday for everyone. The Top 6 qualifiers from that go immediately to Heat Race 3, which will discuss further in a minute.

What about the other 18 drivers, Positions 7-24? All the even-numbered positions (P8, P10, P12…) will race in Heat 1. The odd-numbered positions (P7, P9, P11…) will race in Heat 2. The top two finishers in each of those two heat races will get to go to transfer to Heat 3. So you’ll have your Top 6 qualifiers, Top 2 from Heat 2, and Top 2 from Heat 3 comprising the 10-car field for Heat 3.

The results of Heat 3 will give you your Top 10 for the race. Meanwhile, all the remaining even positions on the grid will be determined by the remaining results from Heat 1, and the odd remaining positions will be rounded out from Heat 2’s results.

Each Heat wil be 50 laps. Bottom line:

-If you are one of the Top 6 qualifiers in one-lap qualifying, you will instantly secure a spot in Heat 3.

-If you aren’t in the Top 6 after one-lap quals, but finish P1 or P2 in Heat 1 or 2, you get to race in Heat 3.

-Heat 3 will determine the Top 10 starting positions for the race, with the other two heats rounding out the field on an odd/even rotation.

-Qualifying is worth up to 9 points, and qualifying positions all the way through P12 can grab some points this way, so it behooves everyone to actually try in the Heats.

...

If you need to take a minute before reading on, I understand.

Marco’s Big Moment?: Marco Andretti hasn’t put a wheel wrong that much this year, but after mechanical woes at Milwaukee, he finds himself 50 points out of first place for the season title. At this point in the season, that’s still very much in contention, of course, but one of his biggest opportunities to move on up should be this weekend. He’s finished P1 and P2 here the last two years, and this is simply one of his best tracks on the entire schedule. With the extra qualifying bonus points at stake, this could be a huge weekend.

Don’t Forget TK: Tony Kanaan’s history here is very similar to Marco’s. They’ve both won, and have both come agonizingly close to winning. Both have great results at this track. I said after Indy I don’t believe TK is done winning this season, and another Andretti/Kanaan duel for victory Sunday would surprise no one.

The Driver Carousel Continues: Ana Beatriz is in for a second straight week for Dale Coyne (she won the Lights race here back in ’09), while Oriol Servia gets another crack at Panther while Ryan Briscoe is off at a certain race in France. Panther has had some really good finishes at Iowa, and Servia was in the Top 4 here in 2011-2012. They could have another really good day.

Simona Struggles?: Simona de Silvestro started the season off in fine form, finishing in the Top 10 in three of the first four races. But after Sao Paulo, her finishes have been P17, P16, P24, P16, and P24, and she’s dropped to P18 in the overall standings. Through her IndyCar career, the Iron Maiden has never recorded a Top 10 on an oval, so she’ll be fighting history if she plans on turning things around this weekend.

Firestone Indy Lights Update: After a good battle at Milwaukee, Lights continues its oval stint with the Sukup 100 Saturday night. Carlos Munoz still has the championship overall lead by only 18 points, but Sage Karam is putting up a good fight. He’s also won the last three seasons in events at Iowa, so he has an excellent chance to narrow or even eclipse Munoz’s lead. Looking through the rest of the field, Zach Veach will try to build on his strong Milwaukee to move up the standings, and Jack Hawksworth will try to find some traction after a brutal start on the ovals this year.

Let’s also talk for just a second about the HUGE news that INDYCAR is selling Indy Lights to Dan Andersen. As a Mazda Road to Indy fan, I really think this is a great move. Dan Andersen obviously has deep experience with USF2000 and Pro Mazda as part of his ladder series credentials, and he’s a guy who can work with manufacturers and bring costs down. The rest of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder has been immensely enjoyable the past few years, and even the entry-challenged Lights series has put on some great racing and produced some excellent racers. I look forward to see just what he can do.

Livery Watch: Helio Castroneves will return to the black-and-red Hitachi livery, while Dario Franchitti will be in a primarily black-and-yellow Glad design—quite a depature from Target Red! Tony Kanaan will be sporting the extremely nice Sunoco livery. Josef Newgarden, meanwhile, aside from adding Hurco to the car, with also have Go Wichita featured prominently on his sidepods.

Pole Pick: Assuming I actually understand how qualifying will go, I’m going with Marco Andretti.

Winner Pick: I like Marco to get a win here, too.

Dark Horse Pick: EJ Viso. He is driving so well, and this could be his week. Additionally, it’s surprising few folks are discussing Scott Dixon, who has been knocking on the door here for the past few years, but I’m still not ready to give a Target Ganassi dark horse status.

Somewhat Relevant Stat: Ed Carpenter had last year’s fastest race lap at Iowa, at 181.479 mph. Oh, and Helio led the most laps last year, by far.

Somewhat Irrelevant Stat: The Iowa Corn Indy 250 goes around a .875 mile track, so the official race distance is 218.75 miles. No rounding allowed in Iowa.

Elsewhere: Watching 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend? It’s ok—this is one of those events where it’s totally understandable if it gets a big chunk of your attention. Keep an eye out for a whole host of INDYCAR alumni doing their thing—a list that includes Mike Conway, Martin Plowman, Bertrand Baguette, Ryan Briscoe, Ho-Pin Tung, JK Vernay, and quite a few others with open wheel ties.

As always, if you’re reading this Friday morning, make sure to get your IndyCar Fantasy picks in by 10am ET. Have a great weekend, and make sure you have plenty of coffee for Le Mans, too!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

IndyCar Advocate's Mid-Season Awards

It seems hard to believe, but we are coming to our halfway point in the INDYCAR season. With this being an IndyCar blog, you know it's time for the requisite mid-season awards, where we take a look at the highs (and a couple of lows) from the season's first half. Let's get to it:

Best Moment: This had to be Tony Kanaan finally getting his big victory at Indianapolis. It was emotional, hard-fought, and as popular a win as we will ever see, I suspect. The ceremony and extended celebration around TK's 500 victory were not to be missed, from his drinking the milk to the talk show tour.

Honorable Mention: James Hinchcliffe's victory in the season opener gave IndyCar's most entertaining driver a long-sought victory, and was our first suggestion this season would be anything but ordinary.

Best Trend: The marketing juggernaut of Dreamworks is gearing up for Turbo next month. If you have children, you've probably seen plenty of commercials, and we're starting to see the toy tie-ins and publicity interviews as well.

Honorable Mention: Dale Coyne Racing winning and/or competing like crazy.

Worst Trend: The continual over-analysis of every race, argument, wayward comment, inference, and Twitter reaction, that our micro news cycle and impatience breeds. Not everything spells doom or salvation, and certainly not one thing on its own.

Best Move: James Hinchcliffe had fought and fought to attempt to pass a, well, "defensive" Takuma Sato in Sao Paulo. Hinch's fake-out, over-under, last-turn, last-lap pass racked up his second victory of the season.

Best Finish: The best finish of the year so far is in the INDYCAR family, but belongs to Peter Dempsey and company in Firestone Indy Lights. Four cars, four-wide, a wild charge from behind--ok, just go watch it again.

Worst Moment: Dreyer and Reinbold Racing having to take a step back and shutter the doors on the remainder of the season was a nasty knock. There's nothing to do there but to hope for the best for 2014.

Most Disappointing: Team Barracuda and Alex Tagliani are an awesome, fan-friendly team and driver combo, but they haven't finished in the Top 20 since Brazil. Other teams or drivers (ahem, Dragon Racing) have had equally rough roads, but their expectations aren't as high, it could be argued. As popular as they are with the engaged fanbase online, there should be plenty of interest in watching Tag and Bryan Herta's folks try to rebound in the season's second half.

Honorable Mention: Graham Rahal's first year with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has had some good moments, but the team has been fighting through some massive struggles in recent weeks. Plenty is expected of this pairing, so any sort of disappointment is magnified. More weekends like Long Beach could turn this around in a hurry.

Most Impressive Prospect: This one has to be a tie. Matthew Brabham has been tearing through Pro Mazda, winning nearly every race so far this season. The only driver  who's been more impressive might be Carlos Munoz nearly winning his rookie Indy 500, though the Lights driver is now facing some stiff competition in the form of Sage Karam. This one is still up for grabs.

Most Improved Driver: It would be easy to say one of the first-time winners, such as Sato or Hinch, but they were already at a pretty high level and capable of winning. I'd go with Josef Newgarden. After not grabbing a single Top 10 his rookie season, Newgy already has four this year, and is making much better decisions on track. He could do much more before the season is out.

Honorable Mention: EJ Viso was showing signs of settling in nicely last season, but he's been excellent so far this season for Andretti Autosport. I'm also not counting out James Jakes just yet.

Best Team: Andretti Autosport. Four wins, and at least two of their drivers in contention for the championship.

Best Odd Couple: Takuma Sato and AJ Foyt. Taku is thriving, and Foyt's team is a frontrunner again.

Most Likely To Win The Championship Battle: Ryan Hunter-Reay. Helio Castroneves is having a banner year, but the defending champ looks to be hitting prime form. Either way, it's going to be a good one.

Most Likely To Crash The Championship Battle: Scott Dixon. This looks to be a Chevy sort of year, but he's still sitting there, P5 in the standings, like a red-headed, consistent ninja, ready to reel off four or five podiums in a row. And you'll never even see him coming.

Most Likely To Win A Race This Season: Marco Andretti is the most consistent driver in the field, so gets the nod.

Honorable Mention: Scott Dixon or EJ Viso.

Best Story: TK has to win this one, too. Our generation's Lloyd Ruby finally got his victory, and secured his place on Indy's all-time greats list.

Honorable Mention: Mike Conway hopping in a car on a Friday, and winning on Saturday in a one-off at Detroit for Dale Coyne Racing.

Best Livery: 
Courtesy IndyCar Media. Credit: Mark Reed.
Your mileage may vary.

Best Personal Moment: Chatting with friends about IndyCar at Indianapolis and Milwaukee, and taking my daughter to her first race.

Worst Personal Moment: Getting sick the night before the 500, missing the Mazda Road to Indy races, and a shot at an "early bird" jaunt through IMS.

Second Half Big Mover: James Hinchcliffe. I don't believe he's done with his winning ways this year.



Monday, June 17, 2013

Milwaukee IndyFest Notes

-Our Milwaukee IndyFest weekend got off to a bit of a rough start, as we had to leave the track a bit early Friday to take care of some medical stuff (nothing serious, happily). Still, we got to see some qualifying, which was nice, and got a quick sense of changes

-So how did my daughter do? Well, she was definitely tired out by the end of the race, but seemed to enjoy it. She found the cars a bit louder than I thought she would--she's gone to Indy countless times without complaining, but thought it was more noisy this time around. She got to meet a couple of drivers, including Graham Rahal, which was pretty neat. He was extremely patient with all the fans, and was talking up Ohio State football (of course!) when we saw him. I expect Saris' account to go up at some point this week.

-Saris had some spending money for a souvenir, and she wanted a Pippa Mann shirt (to go with her hat) they were selling at the Lids store. By the time we went back (right before the race), they didn't have it for sale any longer. She adapted, though, and picked out a Ryan Hunter-Reay t-shirt she really liked. You know how that turned out--she apparently chose wisely!

-Rick Mears almost ran my daughter over (totally not his fault). I explained what an honor that was. And then I geeked out like I do every time I see Rick Mears. Seeing him at races never, ever gets old.

-The Milwaukee Mile does not suffer mistakes, fools, or inadequacy lightly. A problem in the pits that can be worked out in time at Indianapolis can drop you off the lead lap at the Mile. Over the long stints, the Haves and Have-Nots were on full display. Having on "ok" car is not good enough to stay on the lead lap. I think that's part of the reason I enjoyed this race so much.

-What a rough day for Marco Andretti. When your car craps out, there's nothing to be done. Unfortunately for him, both of his big points competitors had great days. He's 50 points behind Helio, and Iowa is going to represent a huge chance for him to catch back up. No, it's not a "must win", but it would certainly help.

-As far as our defending champion goes, Ryan Hunter-Reay is now the only active three-time winner at Milwaukee. He just looks tremendously sharp out there right now. I thought it before the race, but I'll state it definitively now: he is in championship form, and Helio is going to have a tough fight the rest of the way. I absolutely can't wait.

-Castroneves didn't quite have enough to win today, but he minimized the damage RHR could have caused by holding off Power for P2 (great run by Will, by the way). 16 points is the lead I'm sure he wishes he had going into Iowa, but he looks as comfortable right now as I've seen him in a few years. And few drivers are a more entertaining interview than Helio, before or after the race. The crowd loves him for a reason.

-Several drivers were fun to follow as Saturday's race action unfolded--Takuma Sato and Justin Wilson being two of the biggest ones--but honestly, I kept noticing EJ Viso all day, and for the best of reasons. He was aggressive, but not a kamikaze. He cut his way through traffic, made some big passes stick, and had a superb race. I still believe we'll see him get his first victory sometime this season, and it very well could be Iowa.

-I'm not sure which driver/team is having the more brutal season--Graham Rahal/RLLR or Alex Tagliani/Team Barracuda. I do know I am ready to see Tag and the gang start kicking some butt again.

-I really enjoyed the Firestone Indy Lights race, where a classic case of tire conservation played out. Zach Veach checked out in the first part of the race, but you could really see his car go away in the last 40 laps or so. Sage Karam and Carlos Munoz were able to catch him, with Karam again showing he really has that track figured out. Munoz's lead is down to 18 points, as Karam continues to whittle away the lead as Lights goes through the ovals. Do I still think Munoz has the inside track on the Lights championship? Yes, but Karam is doing his best to keep it lively. We'll see what the Lights drivers do in Iowa.

-I missed the Pro Mazda race, which is a pain, but stuff happens. However, what I missed appeared to be a good old-fashioned Matthew Brabham butt-kicking, his fifth such victory in a row. Brabs is really adding to his overall points lead (now at 49), and as good a fight as we've seen from drivers such as Deigo Ferreira, it doesn't look as if anyone will catch him. We won't see Pro Mazda again until Toronto, so Brabham has about a month off to enjoy that big lead.

-Overall, I thought the racing weekend was quite good, with Saturday's action being really exciting. Passing was difficult but not impossible, several cars had a viable shot at the win in the last half of the race, and the drivers who finished up front earned it. There was strategy, enough wall brushes to let you know how tough it was out there, and plenty of surprises. It wasn't a photo finish, but it was just a good, all-around driver's race with racing talent on display for all to see. At least on the ground, it seemed to keep the fans' attention, and folks were clearly into it.

-So, do I think the Mile will be back on the 2014 schedule? I certainly hope so. I thought attendance was about where it was last year. It's been rotten luck on the weather forecasts the last two years. Andretti Sports Marketing has made a really nice event with a full racing schedule and tons to do. I'd really like to see a title or presenting sponsor worthy of this great event. And if you didn't show up this year, hope that they have it next year and get your tickets. It's a great area and a great race!

Other Notes: Our favorite restaurant of the Milwaukee trip was again El Beso, a Mexican spot where I can recommend the chicken and steak fajitas, washed down with some of their green iced tea...after the race, it appears as if IndyCar fans had completely taken over the tourist-friendly Mars Cheese Castle. Great Wisconsin cheese and pastry items, for those interested...Cream Puffs are delicious, and I can see why folks made such a big deal over them...From what I saw, the most popular driver and team shirts were Marco/Hinch/Andretti, closely followed by Tony Kanaan, then AJ Foyt/Takuma Sato. This is big event for the Beloit-based ABC Supply, who brought in a lot of associates for the race...I saw JR Hildebrand on  Saturday before the race. Sounds like he's holding out hope for a couple more events this year, possibly stringing a handful of events together...I ended up parked next to David Hobbs on Saturday. I tried to act like it was no big deal, and probably failed miserably.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Storylines: Milwaukee IndyFest

I need to preface this post with my condolences and prayers to the family of Jason Leffler, taken from us last night in a terrible racing crash. Jason was a pure racer, a fantastic USAC driver, an Indy 500 starter, and I know he had worked towards returning to Indy in the last couple years.

God bless and Godspeed, Jason. I know you'd want us to go on, but this one really hurts.

I usually post my race storyline previews on Fridays, but since I’m preparing to head north Friday morning to Milwaukee, I thought I’d go ahead and hit the button.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that I really enjoy Milwaukee, and love the Milwaukee Mile. I think it’s important, first and foremost, to note that this track, one of the most historical venues in America, looked to be absolutely dead to IndyCar after 2010-2011. However, last year’s race, with Andretti Sports Marketing stepping in, showed that this event can work. After the tentative steps of last year, IndyFest is growing into a full event, incorporating the outside community of Milwaukee, tie-in events, and plenty to do and see outside of the racing.

Seriously, if you’re an IndyCar fan, this should be a bucket list race. If you’re in the Midwest and haven’t planned on going, find some buddies or knock off work by yourself, call it a Father’s Day gift for Dad, make a mad dash up tomorrow, crash somewhere, and catch all the action. Between Friday and Saturday alone, you’re looking at 12 hours of open wheel on-track action, and that’s not including autograph sessions, Q&As, pre-race fesitivities, and the rest. There’s a lot of racing packed into this schedule, which is one of the big reasons I’m so excited to get there. It’s the sort of racing event that definitely deserves all the support it can get.

With all that out of the way, let’s get into the storylines to watch this weekend for Milwaukee IndyFest:

Can TK Keep It Going?: Tony Kanaan has amply shown that Indy was anything but a one-and-done performance, storming to a podium in Texas last week, and sits squarely P4 in the title hunt. TK is always a lot of fun to watch on any ovals, but I always enjoy seeing him on the short tracks. Can TK grab another oval victory this weekend? It certainly would seem not out of the question—he was runner-up at the Mile last year, and has won here before. He’s one of the best in this field when it comes to racing here.

That Title Hunt: We all know that this year’s championship battle is tight, so let’s focus on our Top 3 for a minute. Helio Castroneves has yet to have anything resembling the usual handful of catastrophic race results that knock him from title contention, and he’s opened up a 22-point lead over Marco Andretti. That’s not as dominating as it sounds, as that could easily be eclipsed in a single weekend. For his part, Marco has been the most consistently well-performing driver in the field this year, though he hasn’t grabbed a victory yet. P3 is currently occupied by last year’s champion (and Milwaukee winner) Ryan Hunter-Reay, who is really picking it up. It’s the sort of title fight where you’re waiting to see which driver blinks first. With the way these guys have been performing, a single nightmarish weekend could be a huge step back.

Hello, Briscoe: Ryan Briscoe get his turn in the seat-swapping going on for the #4 Panther Racing car this weekend. Briscoe won this event back in 2008 with Penske, so he’s definitely a driver to keep an eye on this weekend. We’ve already seen that pinch-hitters can win in this series.

Could TK add to his Milwaukee winning ways?
Courtesy IndyCar Media. Credit: Chris Jones
TBA, The Coyne Way: Dale Coyne’s team is definitely racy overall this season, but at the time of my writing this, no official announcement has been made for the #18 machine for Milwaukee. Ana Beatriz has been mentioned as likely getting back into the seat at some point, and without going out on too far a limb, it's probably her or JR Hildebrand we'll see in the car this weekend.

Mazda Road to Indy Update: At last! It seems like it’s been so very long since we’ve been able to talk about Firestone Indy Lights and especially Pro Mazda. Hold on to your posteriors this weekend, because both those ladder series will be contesting at the Mile. Leading off with Pro Mazda, Matthew Brabham has been absolutely dominant for Andretti Autosport in the early going, as so far as is following in his family’s footsteps rather splendidly. Behind him, teammate Shelby Blackstock and Juncos Racing’s Diego Ferreira continue to make guessing game out of the runner up position. This weekend will also mark a return to Milwaukee for Team Pelfrey’s Anders Krohn, a winner on this track back in Star Mazda days. With the Pro Mazda racing happening Friday evening, it should be a great way to cap to a very full day.

For Lights, the last time we saw these drivers was at Indianapolis, where Belardi’s Peter Dempsey won thanks to one of the most incredible finishes I have ever seen at any level of motorsport. He’ll be looking to repeat that showing in his first Lights race at Milwaukee, but it won’t be easy. Carlos Munoz is still in the driver’s seat when it comes to the title, leading 2nd-place Dempsey by 27 points. The Irish racer will really need to start chipping away at Munoz’s lead if he wants any shot at the championship. Meanwhile, Gaby Chaves and Sage Karam are right behind Dempsey, and P2-P4 in the standings are all within two points of one another. Karam should be especially fun to watch here—he had a tremendous victory in Star Mazda here in 2011, and this would seem to be his sort of track. Meanwhile, Jack Hawksworth desperately needs a good oval finish to remain in title contention. This is shaping up to be a good one.

A Who’s Who of Winners: I mentioned this in Tuesday’s article, but winning at Milwaukee has a certain distinction about it. If you wanted to create an All-Time All-Star list of IndyCar drivers, picking randomly from the list of Milwaukee Mile winners would be far from the worst option. Rex Mays, Pat Flaherty, Rodger Ward, Tony Bettenhausen, Jim Clark, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Lloyd Ruby, Bobby Unser, Rick Mears, Johnny Rutherford, Greg Moore—the list goes on and on. (I get goosebumps just reading that list before I head into the Mile). And while winning here doesn’t confer instant legend status on the winner, it is an indicator that this is a driver’s track, where the very best have displayed their skill.

Livery Watch: Helio Castroneves will have the black-blue-and-white PPG scheme this weekend, while Dario will retain the red car, but with Huggies on the sidepod (make your own joke here). Tony Kanaan is back to Hydroxycut sponsorship for this race. Tristan Vautier will have the blue Coastal.com sponsorship. It looks to be a pretty normal sponsorship week, so there shouldn’t be too much in the way of confusing changes out there.

Irrelevant Stat Time: Only two IndyCar drivers competing this weekend won at Milwaukee in Indy Lights: Scott Dixon and Tristan Vautier. Knowing that, plus having a few bucks on you, might get you a Cream Puff.

Relevant Stat Time: Three drivers in this weekend’s field have won Milwaukee twice: Dario Franchitti (2004 [IRL], 2011), Tony Kanaan (2006-07), and Ryan Hunter-Reay (2004 [CART], 2012). Also, just because it’s neat to mention, this track was the one where A.J. Foyt had the most starts, with 45.

Pole Prediction: Tough one. Maybe Helio, building on that Texas success?

Winner Prediction: I’m going with Marco Andretti. This has never been one of his best tracks, but in a season where nothing goes as planned, why should that make sense? If not Marco, let’s keep it in the Andretti stable with RHR defending last year’s win.

Dark Horse: Let’s stay on the Coyne bandwagon. Justin Wilson looked to have this place figured out last year before his engine grenaded.

Of course, don’t forget to get your Fantasy IndyCar picks in before 10am ET Friday!

Have a good weekend, and if you’re at IndyFest this weekend, please stop and say hello!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Milwaukee IndyFest: A First Race

My oldest daughter has never been to an IndyCar race.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, Saris (age 8) has been to plenty of practice and open test days at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She usually tags along for a few days in the Month of May, and she’ll watch the races with me from the comfort of the couch when I’m at home. She’ll talk IndyCar, and of course she’s even contributed to this site. But to this point, I didn’t think she was ready for a full race weekend. My schedule for the Indy 500 is too intense for her to kick things off at 5:30 am, and she was too young when we’d make the trip down to Kentucky for that race.

That’s where Milwaukee IndyFest comes into play.

Really, it seems perfect. It’s only around 5 hours from our house to Milwaukee. It’s a shorter race, so it shouldn’t be too overwhelming, and being a shorter track, it’s easy to follow the action all the way around. In terms of a race experience, I think it’s perfect for a first-timer.

Last year, my wife and I made the trip to the Milwaukee Mile, not only to support the revitalization efforts of bringing this race back, but to sort of scout it out for future family trips. It was time when no one was quite sure if this experiment, this last shot at IndyCars at the Mile, would even warrant a second year. What we saw was extremely encouraging. The difference between the Mile of a decade ago and today is simply staggering.

Andretti Sports Marketing clearly gets the idea that a race, be it oval or twisty, needs to be an “event”. The food trucks in the infield, the carnival rides, the stations giving away free RC Cola and Sun Drop—that’s the sort of stuff that’s exciting to an attending family. You add in a vintage car show, live music, and all sorts of other activities, and that becomes not just a race, but a destination. From painting the walls blue to adding Cream Puffs to adding the Family Fun Zone, everything is calculated to give this race an identity, to ensure it is a relevant, well-connected stop on the IndyCar schedule.

To confess, this has not been an easy year, financially. We’re just settling in from a move, and I’m sure like many of you out there, we’ve had to be pretty frugal with our entertainment budget. But when we were able to get a hotel for just over $50 (thanks to these folks), and when we were able to buy my daughter’s Saturday ticket for $10 (and paddock passes being only $5 for her), that’s a no-brainer. I cannot tell you how nice it is to have an affordable event out there. Even though we didn’t get tickets for Friday, we can still hop in the grandstands for free to watch the Mazda Road to Indy do their thing, along with IndyCar qualifying.

The nerdy side of me wants my daughter to get what an amazing track this is, to understand why it helped make names like Barney Oldfield, Rex Mays, Tony Bettenhausen, and so many other IndyCar legends household names. It’s a Hall of Fame list of drivers who have won here, and only Indianapolis can match the history of this place in regards to open wheel ovals in America. Honestly, that’s probably not going to soak in for her, at least not right away. But hey, she gets to go on a trip, see her first race, probably get some swimming in at the hotel (which is a HUGE deal when you’re 8), and hopefully run into some of her favorite drivers—racers like Pippa Mann, Takuma Sato, and EJ Viso. There’s also the decadent joy of Wisconsin food and dairy, which I’d wager against any destination in the U.S.

For her part, my daughter has not stopped talking about this trip, and has been counting the days until we leave since at least April. Saris keeps asking questions about the track, last year’s race, where we’re staying, if Pippa will be there, etc. She’s a good kid, who tries to do the right thing, and deserves to have some fun.

You try and do the best for your kids. Not everything has to be a $5,000 trip to Disneyland. The things I remember best from my childhood were heading out to the Speedway for qualifications, and my Dad taking me to Indianapolis Indians games when he got free tickets. Today, I still love the Indy 500 and baseball, and of course I love those memories. So even though we’re sitting in cheap seats and making it a budget trip, I think my daughter is still going to have a great time. What’s really important is spending time with family, after all. Milwaukee IndyFest has built itself up to be a great event for family and race fan alike, and that’s why we’re returning, daughter in tow. We’ll be chowing down on some brats, cheering on our favorites, and checking out everything going on between the racing.

I’m sure I’ll write about our experience, and I’m sure my daughter will contribute her thoughts, as well. But what’s most important is the memories we’ll make on our trip together—my wife, my daughter, and me—during this year’s IndyFest.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Firestone 550 Notes

-Well, we knew it wouldn't last forever--Team Penske is back in the winner's circle, and it was a very ebullient Helio Castroneves that won the Firestone 550. I'm not sure anyone celebrates as joyously as Helio after he wins a race.

-In terms of the racing, it was a remarkably clean race, especially considering how many drivers mentioned how tough it was out there. There was also a majority of the field that was out of contention by the last fuel stint. Obviously, a strong victory by Castroneves isn't a last-lap thriller like Indianapolis, but IndyCar has had plenty of races over the years with less action, too. It was a quiet race by Texas standards, but I have a feeling the tire formula gets tweaked a bit for next year. Seeing most of the cars fall off so drastically late in their run was pretty severe.

-I suppose we have to address the TV coverage, don't we? I'm very grateful we have network coverage, but the camerawork and production decisions remain questionable with the ABC/ESPN crew. There was one point, about halfway through the race, where they blurrily zoomed in on a light for what seemed like 10 seconds. They showed Sebastian Saavedra rolling into the pits, even after he was well after contention, each and every time, while cutting to pit stops late. Folks dropped in/moved up of the Top 10, without any apparent explanation. I really would have been happy if Scott Dixon or Pippa Mann joined them in the booth, as well--insight is important. ABC doesn't "need" to do anything, if they don't want, I suppose, but in order to have a more attractive broadcast product, they need to step it up.

-Look at it like this: When you're broadcasting a race, you're telling a story that's unfolding in front of you. Not explaining what's going on with the plot, dedicating massive amounts of airtime to marginally important characters, and breaking into irrelevant footnotes as events move towards the climax wouldn't make for a fluid or engaging story, would it? The same sort of pitfalls can be extrapolated to evaluating the quality of a TV broadcast.

-What a bummer for Pippa Mann and Dale Coyne Racing. There's nothing you can do about a blown engine, and the fact that it happened almost immediately seems particularly unfair, since it appeared as if she was getting things sorted out on track rather nicely. I certainly hope she gets another crack at an oval this year. Social media is always lively when she's in the race, after all!

-While Helio Castroneves definitely made a strong statement with his first win of the year, he's still got some tough competition in terms of that ever-elusive first season title. Marco Andretti is still only 22 points behind, while Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan lurk just behind them. Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud, and Scott Dixon could all still make some noise, too, but they likely need at least 2 of the next 3 races to be really good ones to get back up in contention going into the last third of the season.

-Speaking of title contenders, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan were extremely sharp. I don't think either driver is necessarily done winning this year. RHR in particular is reinforcing why he remains a title threat--he's upped his game on the big ovals so much, and that makes him so much more of a threat.

-It's certainly an odd mix at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing right now. Graham Rahal struggled mightily with his car all evening, while James Jakes was a late stop away from a seriously good finish. I thought Jakes looked pretty sharp out there. Meanwhile, a rough season gets a bit rougher for Graham Rahal. Nothing to be done but head to Milwaukee, and hope for better.

-I know that's not a weekend that went to plan for Marco Andretti, but another Top 5 certainly minimizes the damage from Helio's victory in regards to points differential. He's only finished worse than P7 once this year, and not even Castroneves or Hunter-Reay can make that boast. Now, he just needs to keep it up and see if Milwaukee or Iowa get him his first win on the year. He's really, really close.

-Other Notes: Oriol Servia's save on his spin was tremendous. You don't often see a driver on an oval course waving for the safety team to get him underway again...Given the issues his team had on the night (the glove getting stuck on his car was classic), Ed Carpenter had a really nice race...Dario Franchitti has slowly been creeping up the standings in the last two weeks. Both his finish (P6) and Josef Newgarden's (P8) were relatively under the radar, but very impressive on a night when so many drivers from teams big and small encountered difficulties...speaking of Newgarden, he's developing a pattern of a Top in every even-numbered race this season (Alabama, Sao Paulo, Detroit 1...). That doesn't signify anything in particular, but he's certainly showing plenty of progress in his sophomore year...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Storylines: Firestone 550

It’s time for six-shooters and 10-gallon hats, as IndyCar takes its show to Texas for the Firestone 550 this weekend. There’s always something special about a primetime race, and this one will go off Saturday night on ABC. That’s a good thing for a race that’s still only next to Indy itself in terms of oval draws. IndyCar is going to have one of its bests chances of the season to put on a show for a wider viewing audience, and there’s no doubt Texas is usually a nerve-wracking compilation of thrills.

Here are some the storylines to follow heading into Texas:

Tech Stuff: Last year’s race got rid of the pack racing that was a former feature at Texas, but it didn’t seem to hurt the product at all—quite the contrary. This year, expect qual speeds to nudge up, as the aero configuration is being slightly tweaked in that direction. Also, Firestone should be bringing a tire that will give a bit more grip than last year. Make no mistake, though, this is still a track where the drivers have to drive.

Seriously, The Competition!: You’ve probably seen the stat by now: six drivers have won the seven races this year, and none of them are on Penske or Ganassi. Instead, Andretti, Foyt, Schmidt, and KV Racing have shown just what a competitive edge this series has right now. It’s absolutely thrilling—nothing seems out of the realm of possibility now. Helio Castroneves, Ed Carpenter, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal, Charlie Kimball, Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud, EJ Viso—really, any driver and team could find the right mix and be battling for the win at the end. Even races that are anticipated as being lower on the action scale—such as Detroit—have had some really excellent on-track battling. No one is sure how any race will play out, and that’s exhilarating.

The Defending Champ: Justin Wilson won a very popular victory last year when Graham Rahal brushed the wall in the closing laps. It was a brutal turn of events for Rahal the Younger, but for Wilson, it was another affirmation that he’s one of the very best in the business, especially when the downforce is scaled back. Wilson comes in with two podiums and three other Top 10 finishes on the season already, and a competitive P7 in a close championship race.

What About Graham?: Rahal was just mentioned above, and last year’s scrape was probably one of the worst ways possible to lose a race. He’s had a very up-and-down season, and it’s tough to predict just how he’ll do in any given weekend. In a year of breakout wins, could Texas mark his next one?

Points Battle Update: Helio Castroneves and Marco Andretti are tied for P1 in the standings, but Ryan Hunter-Reay has been coming on strong, and is only 15 points back. Scott Dixon is only 20 back of the leaders, and Simon Pagenaud trails Dixie by only 9 points.

Further, Takuma Sato, Justin Wilson, Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe, and Charlie Kimball round out the Top 10, and all are within less than 60 points of the leaders. Even out of the Top 10, names like Dario Franchitti, James Jakes, and EJ Viso are only a good race or two away from joining the immediate title conversation. Sooner or later, the chaos is going to subside, and the true frontrunners will emerge, but at this point, it’s still a guessing game, with some surprising names keeping themselves in contention.

Hey, Look Who’s Back: It’s time for a Texas-sized “howdy” for two drivers who are making another appearance after Indianapolis. Oriol Servia gets the nod in the #4 Panther Racing machine, whereas Pippa Mann and her Cyclops Gear sponsor will make a return in the Dale Coyne Racing #18 car. Surprisingly, Servia has never finished better than P20 at this track, while Panther scored a Top 5 here last year with JR Hildebrand. We’ll have to see if the respected vet can get it done Saturday. Meanwhile, Mann will be making her first-ever start here, though she has tested at the track before. She’ll be joining a Coyne team that not only won here last year, but put their second car in the Top 10.

Barracuda Comeback?: Alex Tagliani has started from the pole position the last two years at Texas, but Team Barracuda-BHA has struggled since the opening round this season. Tag can still qualify a car like few others, but it remains to be seen if Barracuda can shake some of that bad luck that’s been trailing them. Let’s hope so—that’s too good of an organization to struggle for long.

Another Chance For Dixie: Scott Dixon fairly dominated the proceedings in last year’s race, leading a whopping 133 laps before his crash. Before that crash, Dixon’s finishes here since 2008 went as follows: 1, 3, 4, 2, 2. Dixon hasn’t won yet this year, but this could be one of his absolute best chances this year.

Pole Prediction: I’d like to go with Tag once more, but I’m going to nudge this one to Hinch. He was excellent in Texas last year.

Winner Prediction: It’s time for a Ganassi to win one. Justin Wilson is driving lights-out this year, and it’d be great to see another Coyne win, but I sense a Dixon or Franchitti victory a-comin’. I’ll go with Dixon.

Dark Horse: You won’t believe it, but I’m going with James Jakes. He was very good here last year, and I like how he’s been driving since May. Plus, Rahal Letterman Lanigan was fairly quick in qualifying last year, although an engine penalty started them further back.

Stat of the Week: Six current teams can boast of victories since this race began in 1997: AJ Foyt Enterprises, Andretti Autosport (as Andretti Green) Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, Panther Racing, and Team Penske. Until Coyne’s victory last year, a non-Penske/Ganassi team had not won here since 2005.

Other Stuff I Wrote: Besides my sympathetic look at Roger Penske’s plight, I also did an article on the the upcoming oval stint on the schedule. Be sure to give them a click, if you're so inclined.

Don’t forget to get those fantasy picks in by 10am ET today (Friday)! Enjoy the race, invite some friends over, and kick back with an RC Cola or Sun Drop while you do so.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Long Dark Night of Roger Penske

It was 3 am, and Roger Penske was still trying to apply decals to the replacement front wing for the old, battered Dallara chassis.

Penske had been a decent enough racer in his day, but decided to start up his own race team. What he didn’t expect was the victory drought, race after race of frustration.

Penske sighed, as he realized the “L” in “PENSKE TRUCK RENTAL” wasn’t transferring, much like his team in knockout qualifying.

Sure, he’d had some good runs. The grinning Brazilian fellow that always hung around turned out to be a pretty solid driver, and had even scored a podium or two. But victory? As of late, it seemed as if the words “Roger Penske” and “victory” went together about as well as Sebastian Saavedra and a military barber.

Penske stood up, stretched, and thought back to the last two races. There was the indignity of a third of his team not making it one lap, and the Australian having another mid-race tirade. At least he had grabbed a Top 10. That was something, he unsuccessfully tried to tell himself. Maybe one of the big sponsors would see it, so he wouldn’t have to keep putting the family business on his cars. Someone like Rachel’s Potato Chips, or a start-up, unheralded energy drink looking to cash in on the vacuum Four Loko had left.

Four Loko. A man down on his luck could use one of those about now.

There was a soft knock at the side door of the garage. The door swung open, and a bleary-eyed Tim Cindric surveyed the scene gloomily.

“Working late tonight, chief?” queried the loyal employee, who still threw around words like “championship” and “Victory Circle” as if they were some sort of Penske birthright. Roger admired the fact the man held on to that dream, and hadn’t gone into a shame spiral like the Australian, who mainly sat around these days in between races attempting to somehow play funeral dirges on his drum set.

Roger nodded. “I sent the boys home. Too few of them, and we’ve been asking far too much.”

Tim gave a short shake of his head, and turned to go when something in Roger’s expression caused him to linger. “Was there something else, chief?”

Roger began to wave his hand in dismissal, only to bring it up to cover his reddened eyes.

“Yes—I mean no—well, it’s just—DAMMIT!”

Roger wadded up the transfer paper and threw it across the garage in one angry, fluid motion. It skittered to rest by a pile of oily rags no one had bothered to clean up in months.

“Why is it, Tim?” Roger turned to face Cindric, eyes pleading. “Why is it these fat cats have to win every race? Why? Just because they can hire better engineering, and can afford to go testing? I’m so sick of having Dale Coyne laugh at me every weekend! Do you know what he did at Indianapolis? He threw a bunch of Sonny’s Bar-B-Q coupons at me as he drove by on his golf cart, saying it looked like my boys ‘hadn’t eaten in a while!’”.

Tim sighed. It was the sigh of a man facing reality after a long day behind a fa├žade of optimism.

“We aren’t alone, Roger. Chip said Michael Andretti keeps prank calling him at 3 in the morning, asking if he needs directions to Victory Circle. He hasn’t slept in weeks. He’s stress-eating again. I had to pick him up from a Golden Corral last night—it was that, or the manager was going to call the cops”.

Penske nodded. He knew that Chip didn’t handle it well when his shoestring operation struggled. There had been the time back in CART when he had to fireman carry him out of a Tim Horton’s.

“I just wish—“ Roger paused, as a wave of fatigue swept over him, “—I wish, Tim, JUST ONCE, we could win one for the little guy. I’d love to show those smug big-timers over at Foyt, Coyne, and Schmidt that they can’t just push Penske around. We may be the underdog, Tim, but I FEEL IT. We can WIN. It’s not supposed to be like this. I have to believe that.”

Tim just smiled. His optimism was never far from the surface.

“Well,” Roger finally continued, breaking the silence, “Once we scrounge up a new air gun and slap some paint and tape over this old gal, maybe things will be different. Maybe we’ll get those uppity snots, or maybe one of Chip’s boys will. Maybe Justin Wilson will have engine trouble, or Andretti Autosport’s flight will get diverted to Albuquerque”. He laughed, a mirthless sound of one beaten down into cynicism.

Tim picked up the transfer paper from where it lay in the corner, and carefully smoothed it out. Every dollar counted, and might mean that the Penske boys could finally get those matching crew shirts they’d been saving up for.

“Well, don’t stay up too late, Roger,” said Cindric. “Remember, we have that meeting with that Formula Angola guy tomorrow who wants to run the 2 car sometime this year. He was P18 in his country’s second-biggest series last year, and he's the son of an eccentric shipping magnate, so he might work out”.

Roger shrugged. You did what you had to, and hoped if you got a good driving prospect, Dale Coyne or whoever Eric Bachelart was working with didn’t lure them away.

Tim hesitated once again, and then said, “The Series called, and wanted to know if we have any idea who’s going to be in that car for any races this season. What should I say?”

“Tell them,” said Roger, as soured resignation churned once more in his stomach, “tell them it’s TBA”.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Dual in Detroit Notes; Or, Rule Britannia (France, too)

-It wasn't just the doubleheader racing that made the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit (presented by Quicken Loans) such a full weekend. On my end, I was also moving, which meant I didn't catch the entirety of Race 1. Even with that, I definitely felt as if it was definitely a treat to get that much racing viewing in on a weekend.

-We probably need to start with Mike Conway, who simply ran away with the first race and drove for an absolutely brilliant podium in the second. We're pretty clearly to the point that if I'm an IndyCar owner and I need a fill-in for a road/street event, Conway is at the top of my list. He looked as if he were an IndyCar among Lights cars at some points on the weekend, which is just incredible when you consider the current DW-12 machine and how it's raced.

-Simon Pagenaud is one of the truly nice guys in racing, and it's great to see a guy who's had such a long and winding road to this point make good. The closing laps, where Pagenaud, James Jakes, and Conway were all just driving their tails off on Sunday, was what IndyCar should be all about. Let's not forget Davey Hamilton in all this, who is a great guy, as well, and garnered a well-deserved win as part-owner.

-Big kudos to James Jakes as well. Even before the Indy 500 last month, I was chatting with several other blogger and journalist types about how it seems as if he's really grown a lot since joining this series. When you think of the times last year when it seemed as if he was likely on his way out of his ride and/or the series, it's a pretty tremendous transformation. One podium does not a career make, but I like how he's driving right now. If we also take Conway into account, the British have apparently decided to take vengeance for 1776 by kicking the crap out of the field in IndyCar. 

-Let's face it: the first half of Sunday's race was an absolute mess. We hadn't seen a wrecking crew out there like that in some time, and perhaps we've become a bit spoiled. I saw some folks on social media absolutely flipping out over it, as if it were the new normal, or we haven't had a season of amazing racing so far this year. Hey, if you're a race fan for any amount of time, you're going to run into some races that are total duds. That wasn't one of them, as the second half of the racing was full of really excellent action--just a great fight that kept you in suspense. Hopefully, no one burned their 500 programs in anger and penned an indignant blog post around Lap 30, because the rest of the race was pretty spiffy.

Behold the Coyne/Conway juggernaut.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media. Image by Chris Jones)
-Unfortunately, the ABC broadcast crew in the booth didn't seem to key in on the fact they were watching some great racing, because they again failed to have much excitement in their voices. I don't necessarily need my race announcers to sound like the booth guy at a Mexican soccer game, but there has to be some inflection and situational awareness of what's happening in the race. You got the idea that Godzilla could have rampaged through Turn 3 and all we would have got from the announcers was a comment on how it would impact driver fatigue. Guys, this is the best racing going right now. Let's act like it.

-Marco Andretti wasn't contending for the victory in either race this weekend, but he grabbed two Top 10s and remained in the championship lead (well, tied, at least). That was absolutely huge, especially on a Sunday that saw so much attrition. By the way, teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay is looking good points-wise, especially after a Saturday podium and being able to mitigate some of the damage on Sunday by getting back out there. 

-Will Power's "champ to chump" comment in regards to Sebastien Bourdais was absolutely hilarious. I also liked his explanation on the IMS Radio Network about "showing the Frenchman [his] displeasure with him". Not sure I'm down with the glove throwing, but either way, a tough season just got tougher for the once-dominant driver.

-The parity this year is absolutely amazing. Six winners in seven races. No Penske or Ganassi winners?

-I'll save the aerokit discussion and planned lifecycle of DW-12 development for another day--way too much to discuss on top of everything else. Plus, it's good to remember this is still "big picture" discussion--let's see how the fine details play out.

-Other Notes: I will again try to have fantasy points updated by Tuesday or Wednesday. This quick turnaround is making things chaotic!...Helio Castroneves is also remaining a strong candidate for the championship with another Top 10 finish Sunday after a P5 Saturday. He is tied with Marco now atop the standings...Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti also had a great weekend--could Ganassi be finding their feet this season after a wild start?...Sebastian Saavedra's P10 Sunday was the first Top 10 all season for Dragon Racing...It's tough to imagine that race weekend going much worse for AJ Allemdinger. I still hope we see him back soon...I think I like the doubleheader formats, but I'm curious to see if there are any tweaks at the others this year...If you didn't catch it, Alex Tagliani sounded irritated at the double-file restarts after his crash Sunday, implying they were the cause of much of the carnage...Seeing who will fill in at Dale Coyne's 2nd car for the rest of the season should be interesting--you'd have to think some sort of Mike Conway/Ana Beatriz/Pippa Mann combo would make a nice slice of the fan base happy one way or the other (and I'm still holding out hope for Stefan Wilson, too).