Random Thoughts on St. Petersburg

Posted in IndyCar on October 26, 2020 by Oilpressure

Greetings from the frozen tundra of Rochester, Minnesota! Our flight and a snowstorm both hit Minneapolis at about the same time. We rented a Toyota Corolla to make the hour and fifteen minute drive to the south to Rochester. The further south we drove, the heavier the snow got. There were times that we were sliding around and I could look out into the fields going by, and I couldn’t see the horizon between the snow on the ground and the snow still falling. Those of you that live in the north probably know what I’m talking abut, but we’re not used to seeing snow like this in October. It is currently 27° as I type, but on Monday – the low will be 12°

The weather was not the roughest part of our travel. We changed planes at Chicago Midway. As we were taxiing out to begin the second leg of our trip, we noticed the flight attendants having a meeting about something at the front of the plane. The male flight attendants went to the rear of the plane, came back and made a phone call. It turns out that a passenger refused to pull his mask up over his nose.

The plane turned around, returned to the gate and a marshal came on board. There was more of a ruckus just before the marshal told us we would have to de-plane for our safety as they “took care of the situation” We were all waiting in the gate area when the police went in, got the perpetrator and removed him from the flight. We re-boarded and finally got on our way – an hour and a half late. I’m not a fan of wearing masks either, but you will never win an argument with a flight attendant. You comply or you will be removed and arrested.

None of you came here to read about snow or our convoluted travel. You came to read my thoughts on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the IndyCar Championship. For once I got it right, when I predicted that Josef Newgarden would win the race, but Scott Dixon would do enough to win his sixth championship. But it was a strange road to get there.

We were listening to the Titans game in the car on the way to Rochester. But at halftime, they were playing so bad I decided to pull the race up on NBC Sports Gold. Yes, I’ll admit I was being unsafe (especially in the snow), by driving and hearing the race broadcast through the car speakers, but glancing down at my phone more than occasionally to watch the race.

We got to our hotel at about Lap 40, so I turned it off as we checked in. By that point, things seemed rather dull. By the time I got to our room I went back to the Titans game, which had suddenly gotten close. The Titans absorbed their first loss due to a missed field goal. By the time I went back to the race, it was obviously I had missed a lot. Just as I changed the channel to the race, I saw James Hinchcliffe spinning in the turn that leads onto the main straightaway. He speared Jack Harvey as he was trying to re-enter the track.

That’s when I learned that Alexander Rossi had taken himself out with a self-inflicted shunt in Turn Three just a few laps earlier. I had also missed Marco Andretti’s best race of the season coming to a quick end when Takuma Sato hit the rear tire of Marco.

Other craziness ensued, including the pace car coming close to running out of fuel, which would only happen in 2020.

The last thirty laps or so of the race seemed wild. Things certainly got more interesting after we checked in and watched the end of the Titans game. It may not have been pure racing, but it was certainly more entertaining than the processional race I left around Lap 40.

Josef Newgarden could not have done anything else this weekend. To win at St. Petersburg after starting eighth was quite an effort. Pato O’ Ward put a period on his excellent season by finishing second. Scott Dixon worked to preserve this championship and finished third. Considering that Dixon at one time led by more than a hundred points; Newgarden did a good job of keeping Dixon honest in the second half of the season. Newgarden ended up trailing Dixon by only sixteen points when the final race was run.

TV Coverage: It would be unfair for me to comment either way on the race broadcast, consider I missed so much of it. There was no way I was going back to watch it Sunday night either. We had a 6:50 am departure from Nashville, which meant waking up at 3:30 am.

But I did watch practice and qualifying on Saturday. NBC did a good job, I thought – but Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell need to come up with a new adjective. It was highly noticeable that the only word they could come up with on Saturday to describe anything was super. Everything was super. Maybe they can learn some new adjectives in the offseason.

Overkill: We learned before the weekend started that Scott McLaughlin had indeed been confirmed in a fourth fulltime ride for Team Penske in 2021. I don’t think that announcement caught anyone by surprise, but the NBC booth was frothing at the mouth over McLaughlin on Saturday’s broadcasts of practice and qualifying. To listen to them, the 2021 season was just a formality. McLaughlin walking away with the title was already automatic. He did nothing in his debut weekend to warrant the love fest generated by the NBC booth.

I hold nothing against Scott McLaughlin. He seems like a good guy and has tons of talent. But let’s let the guy run a few races before we anoint him as the next Scott Dixon. Talk about pressure! There’s no way anyone could live up to the hype generated by the NBC hype machine.

Yes, he does! Before Scott Dixon had won his sixth championship on Sunday, I was already seeing people saying that Dixon does not deserve mentioned in the same breath with some of the great names of this sport.

I disagree. It’s impossible to compare eras, but Scott Dixon now has a chance to tie the great AJ Foyt by winning his seventh championship. Dixon probably will not come close to matching Foyt’s Indianapolis 500 win total, but he hasn’t won six championships by being a chump.

AJ Foyt is my all-time favorite driver, but I hope Scott Dixon ties and even surpasses Foyt for winning IndyCar season championships.

All in all: The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was typical of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season. It was disjointed and a little comical at times, but the two best drivers battled it down to the end. I missed the idle of the race, but the race I tuned back into with about twenty-five laps to go, didn’t look anything like the race I stopped watching at Lap 40.

It has made me ready for the 2021 season to start soon.

George Phillips

Please Note: As I said Friday, this was to be an abbreviated “Random Thoughts, as we are in Rochester, Minnesota for the rest of this week. My wife, Susan, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early July. We are here for her to go through a battery of consults, tests and procedures to prepare her for surgery probably sometime in late November.

There will be no post here on Wed Oct 28 and Fri Oct 30. Most likely, I will return here on Monday Nov 2, to discuss what happened here this week along with other thoughts as we head into the IndyCar offseason. – GP.

St. Petersburg Preview

Posted in IndyCar on October 23, 2020 by Oilpressure

The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series champion will be crowned this weekend in a surreal setting for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. This is usually the site where we kick the season off, not bring it to a close. Quite honestly it seems like two or three years have passed since that fateful Friday the 13th back in March, when IndyCar made a last minute decision to cancel this race. A lot has happened since then, both on the track and off.

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Will the Ovals Ever Come Back?

Posted in IndyCar on October 21, 2020 by Oilpressure

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that oval track racing is becoming an endangered species in the NTT IndyCar Series. Just a quick glance at next year’s schedule compared to the schedule as recent as 2015 shows a shocking decline in just a few years. The 2015 scheduled featured six oval races; the Indianapolis 500, as well as races at Texas, Fontana, Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono. The 2021 schedule has the Indianapolis 500, a double-header at Texas and Gateway – four races at three oval tracks.

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The Short and Chaotic Reign of Joe Heitzler

Posted in IndyCar on October 19, 2020 by Oilpressure

There was a loss in the IndyCar world late last week that probably went unnoticed by many. Some may have seen the name and it didn’t ring a bell. Others may have callously smirked and silently thought “Good riddance!” to themselves.

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The Grass is Not Always Greener

Posted in IndyCar on October 16, 2020 by Oilpressure

Although it has yet to be officially announced, it looks pretty certain that Felix Rosenqvist will be leaving Chip Ganassi Racing to replace the recently fired Oliver Askew at Arrow McLaren SP for 2021. This leaves Ganassi in somewhat of a pickle. Word has it that he had every intention of extending the second-year IndyCar driver for 2021 and beyond.

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A Disturbing Pattern That Has Been Emerging

Posted in IndyCar on October 14, 2020 by Oilpressure

If you are a fan of the show Curb Your Enthusiasm, you may have seen the episode of Larry David and Richard Lewis encountering a blind man on the street, who needed some help moving some furniture into his apartment. Giving the fact that he was blind, of course they agreed to help. When they got in there, they found him to be extremely rude, nasty and demanding; as he guilt-tripped them into helping him. As it turned out, he was simply a rotten person who treated people poorly. The point of the episode was that just because someone has a disability, does not automatically make them a saint.

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The Good and the Bad of the 2021 Schedule

Posted in IndyCar on October 7, 2020 by Oilpressure

The NTT IndyCar Series did a smart thing last week, when it released to 2021 schedule just hours before the first practice for the Harvest Grand Prix. They knew it wouldn’t be completely overlooked, but that fans had a race to pay attention to and they would mentally place the schedule on the back burner.

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