Random Thoughts On Texas

Just when it looked like the wheels were coming off of the IZOD IndyCar Series; lo and behold they go out and run a great race. Everything looked like there was potential for disaster heading into the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway. There was still infighting behind the scenes complete with eighth grade-like finger pointing. The series was coming off of one of its biggest duds in years at Belle Isle. Then you had the drivers saying they didn’t want to be at the first 1.5 mile oval since that ill-fated day at Las Vegas, amidst rumors that this would be the last trip that the series makes to Texas Motor Speedway. Top that off with the decision to strip cars of downforce, put it back then remove some – kept drivers, teams and fans confused as to what was going on with INDYCAR.

When the race was delayed due to injuries to an event worker when the pre-race stage fell on him – it looked like the night was being set up as another fiasco like last week. Then two of the cars on the grid – the cars of Simona de Silvestro and Rubens Barrichello – curiously couldn’t even get fired to take the green flag. It certainly gave all appearances as being “one of those nights”.

But when the green flag finally fell, a great race suddenly came out of nowhere. An old goat like me can appreciate the type of racing we had on Saturday night. To use a phrase used many times this past weekend – they put the driver back into the cars. Drivers had to actually use discretion on when to lift and how to go about saving the tires so that they would still be there at the end of a long run. No longer were drivers in control of high downforce machines that allowed them to go flat-out and never lift throughout an entire lap. Now they were forced to make decisions and judgments on how far to push the cars beyond their limits.

Personally, I was very happy to see Justin Wilson win on Saturday night. He is genuinely one of the nicest guys in the paddock and it’s good to see him bounce back from two forgettable years at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing that came to a merciful end when he fractured his back last year at Mid-Ohio. It’s nice to see good things happen to nice people. I also have to admit I was happy to see Graham Rahal not win. I would never wish contact with the wall on anyone, but I wasn’t disappointed when he brushed it just enough to lose the lead with two laps to go.

Graham Rahal is a good ambassador for the series and has done quite a bit of charity work – especially for the Wheldon family. But some of his actions, comments and demeanor have rubbed me the wrong way lately. There’s nothing I can put my finger on really – there’s just an air of smugness about him. I will commend him for facing the music as soon as he got out of the car and taking full responsibility for his mishap. Maybe this bit of adversity will make him a little more appealing in the coming races.

TV Coverage: As usual, I thought the NBC Sports Network did a stellar job with their coverage. I’ve never been a huge fan of Tommy Kendall, but I thought he did a nice job filling in for Wally Dallenbach. Their pre-race show was excellent. Although I miss Lindy Thackston’s presence on the telecast, I think that Townsend Bell does a tremendous job with his driver insight.

For those that have been bashing Bob Jenkins, you are about to get your wish after this season. He is retiring in order to help his wife deal with some health issues. Although he may not be perfect, Bob Jenkins will be tough to replace. He has a warmth about him that comes across to viewers and there are few people that have as much passion for IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis 500 than Bob. He attended his first Indianapolis 500 in 1960 and has been hooked ever since. Like many of the old-time announcers in sports, his familiar voice has been a constant over the years and it is one that I will miss. I will enjoy listening to Bob for the rest of the season. Don’t be surprised if you read more praises from me throughout this summer directed toward Bob Jenkins.

Chevy woes continue: Things have certainly turned south for the bow-tie brand since qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. I was on the bury Honda bandwagon, when they were embarrassed at Long Beach, but whether or not it is a direct result of “turbogate” – Honda has gotten its act together. Not only did they win their third straight race, they occupied the first two rows during qualifying at Texas. After engine adjustments are allowed later this month, it’ll be interesting to see what Chevy can do to resurrect the momentum they had in the first four events.

Penske problems continue also: I’m not sure you can label a team having a problem when it places all three of its cars in the top-eight, but when you won the first four races as well as the first four poles of the season – its tough to step back and watch other teams celebrate. Late in the race, Helio Castroneves was challenging for the win before he dropped like a stone to finish seventh and one lap down. Will Power was leading when he made an obvious move on Tony Kanaan that effectively ended Kanaan’s night. I don’t know if Power had enough car under him to win, but it sure seemed like Kanaan did before being taken out by Power. Fortunately, Beaux Barfield had the backbone to penalize the leader late in the race with a drive-through penalty. Power finished eighth. Ryan Briscoe held on for his life for third place, as he gave Team Penske its best finish of the night.

Give a nod to Hildebrand: Although John Barnes has irked a lot of fans (including me) for his behavior in attempting to oust Randy Bernard, the anger should not be carried through to his team. In my opinion, JR Hildebrand had one of the best drives of the night – coming from the back of the pack to finish fifth. This wasn’t any fluke of a clever pit strategy. He passed these cars in earnest – on a night when the driver made the difference. That made up for the embarrassment on Friday when the National Guard car was out-qualified by the lone Lotus in the field.

All in all: It was a good race minus the pack racing we’ve seen in years past at Texas. The cars were spaced out enough, but there was still good racing. The DW12 was redeemed after that debacle at Belle Isle a week earlier. The looks of the car are growing on some, but I’m still not a fan of its aesthetics. But as far as its raceability – consider me a big fan. Six of the seven races this car has raced in have been great races. I was glad to see that it can race as well on an oval as it can on the road and street courses. I want aero-kits next year to have some diversity on the grid, but that’s another rant for another day.

It was good to see the Penske/Ganassi stranglehold on this season finally get broken. I think most would have thought that whenever it was broken, it would have been at the hands of Andretti Autosport or KV Racing Technology – not Dale Coyne Racing. But it was good to see Dale Coyne get his second win in four seasons after going twenty-five years without a win.

And as I said earlier, after such a great race that we saw Saturday night, it was refreshing to see Justin Wilson back in Victory Lane. I’ve always been a big fan of his and Saturday night just made it much more so.

George Phillips

22 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Texas”

  1. Ron Ford Says:

    The racing was another pleasant surprise. It was really fun (for us, perhaps not for all the drivers) to see them doing 4-wheel slides through the corners. Tire management was critical. I hope we return to Texas , though I think Eddie Gossage was insulted by Randy Bernard’s remarks about wanting IndyCar to promote the race next year.

    Regarding your remarks about Graham Rahal, does a driver really have to have a cookie-cutter, corn flakes, beige personality to meet your approval? Do you hate Japan and Graham now? He is a bit edgy sometimes, so what? He is a damn good driver and a fine ambasador for the sport. Up here in Wisconsin we are very grateful that he is bringing bus loads of fans from Indy up to the Mile this weekend.

    As long as the racing continues to be this good, I for one could not care less about aero kits.

    Good to see you back George.

  2. I think Ed Carpenter deserves consideration for most disappointing evening.

    He was the only one I heard after Indianapolis to complain publicly about the race performance of the DW12 (outside of the visual characteristics or price tag).

    Then apparently, at least according to NBCSN, he radioed his PR person to post a tweet DURING the race to tell the fans Saturday night’s race sucked, after he did plenty of complaining before the race too.

    I bet Ed’s problem is the only tracks and cars he has a prayer of finishing in the top 10 are ones that feature the ‘pack racing’ everyone else is so concerned about.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I found his comments at Texas to be strange because he was very competitive until he lost the balance of the car on the final stint.

      Of course, he was competitive at Indy too…

  3. bent wickerbill Says:

    A night that began like a Ringling brothers 3 ring circus, ultimately produced some fine racing, placing the decision making back in the drivers hands, produced some great results for those who know how to manage their resources. No more run flat find a groove dial the mixture back and conserve fuel and make to the end baloney.

  4. God that felt good. I had my doubts going into the start of the race, but as it progressed and it became apparent that the tires were going of, and the drivers actually having to move their right foot up & down, I was hooked. When Dixon suddenly started dropping after dominating the first 100 + laps, I was ecstatic. The last 60 laps are some of the best racing we’ve seen in a long time. I didn’t ONCE hear anyone mention the god-damned fuel knob, or say someone was “saving fuel” on the track.

    I think it is really telling to listen to the pre and post race comments and see which drivers were thrilled with the setup, and the racing, and which weren’t. If this was the old package, the race would have gone to Dixon, or Briscoe, as no one would have been able to make a pass for the lead. With the old package, having the best aerodynamic rear view mirrors mattered more than the drivers talent on these tracks.

    • Is it just me or did they sorta sneak the fuel knob back in after removing it last year?

      • No, it’s not just you. Somewhere in all the hype about the changes to the cars they left out the part about the fuel knob. Thank goodness racing like this made the knob irrelevant.

  5. John S. Says:

    Some random thoughts…..I also was delighted to see Graham Rahal scrape the wall. I’m with you, George. He seems like a nice guy, and a good ambassador, but he comes across as cocky, and a bit of a whiner. I was completely confident he would blow his opportunity, as he usually does, and he didn’t let me down.

    Justin Wilson? Congrats to a great guy. His win was overdue. Justin is a great driver, as he proved again last evening.

    Dario? Great to see him so far behind. Nothing against him, but the guy just wins too much, and seems to have a silver spoon. The last several years misfortune never hit him as it does the other drivers, but this year, he is seeing what happens when lady luck isn’t smiling at you.

    The race? Very exciting, and I hope they return to Texas.

    Power cutting off Kanaan? I kept telling myself Will wouldn’t do that, but there it was, clear as a bell. Shame on you, Will. Tony was having a great night, and going for a potential win.

    Ed Carpenter? Come on, Ed, quit whining.

    Thanks George, and by the way, glad you enjoyed your honeymoon in my old stomping grounds.

  6. The American Mut Says:

    Still wondering why Dario wasn’t black flagged off the track when his car spent most of the race going slower than a lotus. It would seem the trend of not penalizing Ganassi cars is continuing as he also ran over a fuel hose in the pits and never got a drive thru.

  7. Sounds like a good race is the last thing Bernard wanted. Between Houston next year, probably Austin the next, the driver’s bitching, the Bernard/Gossage sniping and the plethora of aluminum, I’d be surprised–despite the good race–if Indycar returns to the Texas oval.

    I haven’t heard about ratings for this race yet, but the lack of an audience for Indycar outside of Indy is depressing.

    I think aero kits are important–for competition, manufacturer activation and aesthetics. And because they promised fans they’d have them.

    Indycar lately has started to remind me of an unprepared community theater group that tries to put on a show while scenery is collapsing, actor’s are bickering and the director is involved in a fistfight in the lobby.

    Agree about Bob Jenkins.

    I want drivers (like Graham) to have diverse and interesting personalities–I think that’s been lacking in Indycar. (Nascar seems to be almost totally personality-driven.) But I don’t want their public persona to be viewed as whiney or spoiled–and GR comes across that way sometimes–as do Marco, RHR and Dario.

    Unlike team owners, I do like all these races in a row. It actually brings some continuity to the series.

    The idea of making driver’s actually drive the cars (and lessening “pack” racing) was a great idea and made for an exciting (and apparently safer) race. My question is: how much is top speed reduced because of that and does that bring Indycar down to Nascar speeds? And if so, is that good or bad for Indycar?

    • billytheskink Says:

      At Texas on Saturday, announced in-race speeds varied from 211 on fresh tires to 195 for cars struggling with balance and old rubber. At the slowest, that’s still 10-15 MPH faster than NASCAR cup’s top in-race speeds at Texas.

  8. My thoughts on the Texas 550 has been pretty much covered. I found it as exciting as I imagined it would be and I like the DW12. Also, I am savoring every last broadcast with Bob Jenkins. He is simply the best and I feel fortunate that he was a part of a sport that I am passionate about during my time on this planet.

  9. Ross Clark Says:

    I have been fortunate enough to meet Bob Jenkins twice. Once at Michigan he gave my brother and I a tour of the ESPN facilities. He is a true gentleman, and I would kill for his voice.

  10. Carburetor Says:

    I thought this was a very exciting race, but was a bit turned off by the driver’s angst about racing at TMS. I live in the area, but couldn’t attend due to a schedule conflict, but if I had been a casual fan, their comments would not have enticed me to come out to see them.

    I think Bernard is correct, this race isn’t promoted anywhere near as much as the NASCAR race, so I can understand why he’d like to promote it. I have this suspicion that it isn’t coming back though.

    Was thrilled that Wilson won; I too, think Rahal is a bit of a whiner, but he was a stand up guy at the end–as was Will Power with his block.

    Kendall was okay in the booth–until toward the end of the race he mentioned sprinkles on the track. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky for miles, so that makes one wonder…..

    • billytheskink Says:

      Servia’s tweet from earlier in the week earned him a fair number of boos during driver introductions. Whether he deserved them or not depends on your view of booing, no doubt, but I certainly understood the reaction.

      Servia did not, however, in any way deserve the grilling he got from a shameless 105.3 FM shock jock.

  11. billytheskink Says:

    This was exactly the race IndyCar needed after two weeks of owners vs. Randy, owners vs. aero kits, loose asphalt vs. DW12, racing vs. Detroit, and everyone vs. Eddie Gossage. We got great action, compelling racing, a late pass for the win between two unusual suspects, that “thrill of victory, agony of defeat” situation we’ve seen at the past two Indy 500s, and a very deserving, very likable, great story winner (and I’m the biggest Graham Rahal fan in Texas).

    It sounds like the race looked good on television, I can tell you for sure that it was tremendous in person. There was never a boring moment. At any given point in the race there were multiple cars moving up and down in the order, guys who found a perfect balance and were picking off cars left and right to guys who had overused their rubber and were dropping like a rock. Particularly great drives were turned in by Wilson (obviously), Rahal (he was a lap down at one point), Hildebrand, and Pagenaud (got his lap back late and made hay on the final stint).

    Perhaps the best thing about this race is that it gave us all some evidence that open-wheel cars can put on a safe, sane, and entertaining race at a high-banked 1.5 mile track. For all the talk about how unsuitable such tracks were for IndyCars, I thought it odd that it was rarely noted that practically every IndyCar race ever held at the 1.5s was contested with essentially the same car. When a different car was finally created, lo and behold, they got a different style of racing. Seems obvious in hindsight…

    The crowd was fair, I’d estimate it was 60,000+. Not what IndyCar used to draw there in the early 2000s and not a NASCAR-size crowd at Texas, but there was no shortage of people at the track. The IndyCar crowd for certain tripled the Friday night truck race crowd (which was treated to a pretty good race too).

    I really do hope IndyCar and Texas reach an agreement to continue the race. There may be fair and legitimate reasons if it doesn’t, but safety, race quality, and attendance will not be believable scapegoats. Sorry for the length, but I was especially excited after this race.

  12. Conspiracy: Simona got parked before the race even started? Rubens parked himself (or by his wife)? No and no but the thought crossed my mind.

    Need to quit gambling. Sato top 3 at 45-1 at Indy. Rahal to win Texas at 12-1. Also had Pag at Long Beach for what it’s worth.

    First time Firestone ever brought a tire that actually falls off. Just like the F1 Pirellis. Makes for great racing. This will help Will Power on the ovals. The best drivers will win. My perception of Wilson multiplied by 10. Keep the formula and get him in Ganassi or Penske and we have a title contender.

  13. Cheaters

    • Yeah, it definitely takes a lot away from that win in my opinion. Either don’t get caught or follow the rules. I cannot believe the penalty isn’t more.

  14. […] from: Random Thoughts On Texas « Oilpressure Tags: back, bob, car, coming, indycar, power, put, racing, season, texas, win, […]

  15. I could not agree more with your comments about Rahal. He has a very cocky attitude and anyone that watches his Twitter will tell you that he is a spoiled brat that makes Marco look like a model figure. Graham likes to brag about his new cars and how wonderful all of his material possessions are. They obviously aren’t helping him win any races or friends. Rahal constantly throws his name around and gets free items like golf clubs and other items. He feels that it’s ok to use his status to ask other people for favors and then goes around trying to sell his personal watches and cars for a profit. Get some wins under your belt and grow into that big head of yours. Try to be humble and private. We don’t see Will or Dario bragging about what they have…..including their wins. Take note young Rahal

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