Random Thoughts On Fontana

Those that opted to do yard work Saturday afternoon instead of watching the MAVTV 500 from Fontana probably thought they would be missing a snoozer. I hate to tell you, but you were wrong. That race may have been the most exciting race I’ve seen in years. It was edge-of-your-seat excitement from start to finish. If you found this race boring or not entertaining, then you need to find another sport.

It’s a shame that those in charge of the Verizon IndyCar Series can’t get out of their own way, but somehow they managed to mar an otherwise fantastic race.

Graham Rahal was the race winner, but not without some controversy. On a late pit stop, his fueler inexplicably stuck the fuel probe back into filler neck, just as Rahal was pulling away. The fueling assembly was stuck inside the car as the fuel hose was ripped away from the tank, splashing raw fuel everywhere as Rahal exited his pit box.

My first thought was that it was a shame that Rahal would receive a drive-through penalty, since he had driven such a great race. But, I figured, that’s racing. Any type of miscue with pit equipment always results in a penalty, so unfortunate as it was – a penalty was deserved.

Derrick Walker came into the NBCSN booth and explained that it would be a post-race infraction, meaning either a fine or points deduction. He rationalized that they didn’t want to alter the on-track results, or something to that effect. This after Ryan Briscoe was issued a rather questionable drive-through penalty earlier in the race.

I believe Derrick Walker to be a man of integrity. Even though many don’t care for Brian Barnhart, I don’t question his character. Having said that, it sure gave fans the impression that IndyCar officials were willing to look the other way on a blatant safety infraction, just to keep one of Honda’s main threats in contention.

It is well documented that Honda has yet to sign an extension that will keep the manufacturer in the Verizon IndyCar Series for the foreseeable future. It is also well known that losing Honda as a partner would be an insurmountable blow to the series. Honda left Indianapolis and the month of May very angry and they didn’t mind letting their frustration be known. By ignoring the Rahal infraction, I’d say that IndyCar officials have evened the score with Honda – whether it was or was not intentional. I’d like to think it was unintentional, but I could be wrong.

One thing to keep in mind, however – the ruling was consistent with the way pit infractions have been handled all season. More on that later.

It’s a shame that there is a dark cloud over Rahal’s victory. He had nothing to do with the infraction. It was strictly on one crew-member. And, oh by the way…he drove a heck of a race. After starting nineteenth, he worked his way to the front and stayed there all afternoon. I’m not the biggest Rahal fan in the world, but I’ll concede he is becoming more likeable. I’m thinking his fiancé, Courtney Force, is having a positive influence on him in and out of the car. Whatever the case, Rahal has been strong all season and it finally came together for him, albeit under suspicious circumstances that were beyond his control.

As for the rest of the race, I can’t remember when I’ve seen a more exciting race. I’ll be honest, I was relieved when it was over. It was so nerve-wracking it wore me out to watch. As a fan, that’s better than putting me to sleep halfway through. But there are justified concerns about this type of racing that I’ll address later.

It was almost fitting that this race ended with Ryan Briscoe becoming airborne and inverted before the nose of his car dug into the infield grass and thrashed its helpless passenger around violently. Miraculously, he was able to walk away with that trademark Briscoe smile on his face.

TV Coverage: I’ve read where some have a problem with Steve Matchett blatantly cheering on certain drivers near the end of a race. He was obvious in his favoritism with his urging of Graham Rahal at Barber with his “C’mon son”. He did the same with Briscoe on Saturday as he kept telling him to not give up that bottom line.

Personally, I have no problem with it. I think he is the best racing broadcast analyst in the business and his enthusiasm is genuine. Although he comes from a Formula One background, Matchett has clearly done his homework and didn’t just show up for the weekend. Saturday’s race was apparently the first oval that Matchett has broadcast and his amazement with what he was witnessing was obvious.

I’ve heard Curt Cavin say that Townsend Bell can elevate any telecast. That may be true, but give me the pairing of Paul Tracy and Steve Matchett any day.

On a side note – give credit to Kevin Lee for pushing aside his professional pit reporter image, during the post-race interviews, and asking Ryan Briscoe what every fan was wondering. With astonishment in his voice, Kevin asked Briscoe to explain a race driver’s mentality on how could he stand there and watch a video of the horrifying ride he had just taken. Kevin Lee is a pro, but he always lets us know that he is one of us by showing a fan’s passion in his job.

Redemption for Honda: You can argue that IndyCar officials may have been trying to appease Honda with the no-call on the Graham Rahal pit violation, but there is no arguing that Honda acquitted themselves on Saturday. The Honda aero kit has been a punch-line since the open test at Barber in mid-March. Even then, word was circulating that they had put all of their marbles into their super-speedway package. But the situation with qualifying at Indianapolis derailed those plans.

At one point late in the race on Saturday, the majority of cars in the lead pack were Hondas. Paul Tracy even noted that he thought the Honda engine was stronger than the Chevy, but their problem was with their aero package.

Rahal was not the only Honda running up front. Ryan Briscoe, Carlos Muñoz, Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato all spent most of the day running in the front pack.

A one-three finish on a big oval can go a long way in helping the morale of all the Honda teams, especially with three of the five remaining races being ovals. Of course, two of those three are short ovals where I’m assuming Honda will be running their high-downforce package. It also doesn’t hurt that the president and CEO of American Honda was in attendance on Saturday. Don’t under-estimate what this win has done for Honda.

The Pack Racing Debate: As for the race, it was so good it was almost scary to watch. I’m really torn on the subject of pack racing. On one hand, it is mesmerizing – at least on television. You don’t dare look away, even during the commercials when the non-stop box is provided. It’s very similar to restrictor-plate racing in NASCAR. A driver may be leading one lap and be eleventh the next time by.

Unfortunately, like NASCAR, there is also always the potential for “the big one” with pack racing. By about Lap Five, I started flashing back to Las Vegas in 2011 – the last true pack racing event. Fifteen laps into that race, they had “the big one” and Dan Wheldon lost his life. While watching Saturday’s race was exhilarating, my fear was that something similar could occur.

We all know that a fatality or serious injury is possible in any race. That was proven at seemingly safe tracks like Toronto in 1996 or Houston in 2013. But it seems like pack racing at high speed ovals is tempting fate. I’m not an engineer, but it appears that it’s not an easy problem to solve and that IndyCar has quite an issue on its hands. I imagine it’s a very fine line between allowing enough downforce to be able to pass, but not adding so much that the cars are bunched together like they were Saturday.

Like almost everything else in IndyCar, there is a great divide in opinion. Single file parades are boring and tough to watch. I’m a die-hard and can find entertainment in watching different strategies play out in those parades. But IndyCar already has me. They need new fans besides me, and new fans aren’t likely to be enticed by watching someone pit late for fresh tires and seeing if the strategy works.

Tim Cindric, Will Power and Tony Kanaan were very vocal against this type of racing after the race – Kanaan especially. According to Trackside Online, Kanaan slammed down his microphone in the post-race press conference when one media member questioned his opinions on pack racing. He responded by saying it was his life on the line and he’s the one that lost his best friend by racing like this.

That point was countered by an eighty year-old AJ Foyt, who smirked when asked what he thought about this type of racing. He said he always liked it when he was racing. He said at least they had a chance to race – giving the impression that those that didn’t like it were cry-babies. Closer to home, Ed Carpenter later tweeted “I love close @IndyCar racing. Hate to see drivers bad-mouthing a series. If you want to race, race. If not, retire.” Ouch!

I can see both sides of this debate, and IndyCar has a tough job on their hands striking the right balance. From a fan’s perspective, Saturday’s action was breathtaking. Briscoe’s crash ran on SportsCenter throughout the rest of the weekend. Like it or not, that’s the kind of action that attracts fans.

If you didn’t like that statement, you sure won’t like this one. Going back to the origins of this sport, that was the attraction to fans – that they were witnessing drivers risking and sometimes losing their lives in pursuit of a victory. Right or wrong, that was what attracted many to this sport decades ago. That was also at a time when the sport was losing six or seven drivers a year to racing fatalities.

Do you think that mentality has changed over time? When did NASCAR’s popularity soar? It happened in 2001, just after the death of Dale Earnhardt and on the heels of the fatalities of Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty in 2000. Racing purists will argue that point, saying that it’s the finer nuances of the sport that attracts fans. That’s what you and I like about it, but like it or not – many were initially attracted to this sport because there was the death-defying angle to it and sometimes, death won.

Some would say that no one is interested in safe racing, although I would argue that the term “safe racing” is an oxymoron. There is no safe racing. They can and should make the sport as safe as possible, but it is still inherently dangerous. Ask Dario Franchitti or James Hinchcliffe how safe the sport is.

There is the old saying that there are old drivers and bold drivers, but no old and bold drivers. No one questions the courage and bravery of Tony Kanaan or Will Power. Both have been through their share of horrifying crashes. Some they walked away from and some they were injured in. But they always came back. Will Power has suffered two broken backs and Tony Kanaan has driven races with broken bones.

Should either of them follow Ed Carpenter’s advice and retire? Should any driver that fears this kind of racing hang it up? Some say that if you start fearing for your life, then it’s time to retire. I don’t buy that. I think a driver would be insane to not think about the possibility of death or injury. Those are the kind of drivers to stay away from on the track.

This is a huge issue and it won’t be settled by an indecisive and over-aged blogger sitting at a computer in Nashville, TN. Tony Kanaan is right. Who am I or anyone else to tell him how he should risk his life? He is forty years old, has a relatively new wife and a brand–new baby along with a young son. Only he should decide how much risk he is willing to take at this point in his life. That’s not for fans, bloggers or other drivers to decide.

To wrap up my inconclusive part of this quandary, I think it was said best by an e-mail I received Sunday morning from the reader known as “redcar”. He said “I’ve finally figured out IndyCar, George. When it’s exciting to watch, I’m not supposed to like it.” That pretty well sums up the problem that IndyCar faces going forward on this topic. It was the most enjoyable race I’ve seen in years, but the drivers got out of their cars and chastised anyone who say they enjoyed it. Hmmm…

The Penalty Debate: Getting back to the non-call for Rahal – this has been a subject of debate all season long. Instead of issuing drive-through penalties for pit infractions during the race, teams and drivers are penalized the following Wednesday with fines and/or point reductions. Why was Ryan Briscoe issued a drive-through and Rahal wasn’t? Because Briscoe’s (perceived) penalty took place on the track – not in the pits.

Of course, one can argue that Helio Castroneves was not given a drive-through penalty at this year’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, even though he pretty well ruined Scott Dixon’s day in Turn One of the first lap. Instead, he was docked eight points the following week and then had that trimmed back to only a three-point penalty a few weeks later. There’s the inconsistency that fans, drivers and teams are complaining about.

I’m not a fan of issuing penalties the following week. No matter how harsh, penalties should be handed down at the track as often as possible. What good is a fine when you’re dealing with multi-million dollar budgets? The bigger teams can just budget in a few fines at the beginning of the year and tell their drivers to have at it. Will Rahal really mind if he loses ten or twenty points? He is currently fourth in the championship, just four points ahead of Helio Castroneves. That type of point reduction would move him back to fifth, which he has already stated as his goal in the standings this season. He still has the trophy and a second win to his credit after a 125-race drought.

If James Jakes finds himself in a position to win a race, but sees an air-hose lying in front of him, do you really think he’ll wait until it’s moved before taking off? If it means he gets a win and a points reduction on Wednesday, he’s taking the win and running over the air-hose. If it means a drive-through penalty, being a lap down and ruining a good finish – he’ll wait until the air-hose is moved.

So for those that claim this win is tainted because of a non-call, a penalty is coming this week. And it will be a penalty that is consistent with the other pit-lane violations this season. Those are the 2015 rules. I just hope they come up with some rules with some teeth in 2016.

Is Ed Whining? First of all, I am a big Ed Carpenter fan. I’ve always liked him as a driver. I cheered for him in 2009 and 2010 when he narrowly lost at Kentucky Speedway. I cheered loudly when he finally won there in 2011, giving Sarah Fisher Racing their first victory.

I was very happy for him as he won his second straight Indianapolis 500 pole last year and felt he was the innocent victim when he tangled with James Hinchcliffe in last year’s “500”.

But as this season has soured for Ed, so has his demeanor – and he is sounding uncharacteristically defensive about it. When he and Oriol Servia collided in Turn One at Indianapolis this year, he wasted no time in completely trashing Servia and deflecting all of the blame. However, replays clearly showed that Ed did to Servia exactly what he accused Hinch of the year before. Ed was also justifiably frustrated after parking his car at Texas.

On Saturday, Ed committed the ultimate sin for a racing team – he took out his teammate, and in this case, his employee Josef Newgarden. Knowing that he really couldn’t blame Newgarden for the blunder, he instead chose to blame his spotter on national TV.

Come on, Ed – you’re better than that. It’s OK to admit a mistake. I have an idea that whoever his spotter is will not be in a good mood this week. Even if he or she was ultimately at fault, Ed should act like the team leader (and owner) that he is and take the fall in public. That’s just my take.

Never Again: For years, I’ve been singing the praises for Ryan Briscoe and for years I’ve had people come back at me telling me that Briscoe is non-deserving and over-rated. In the comment section of this site, Briscoe’s been called everything from boring to incompetent. It’s been said that the only reason that Briscoe has seven wins was because he was in Penske equipment.

This season, I’d say Ryan Briscoe has had the last laugh. In the slower Honda at Indianapolis, he had to start at the back of the field due to the driver change when he subbed for Hinchcliffe. He finished twelfth. He finished eighth at Texas and Saturday was in contention for the win on the red-flag restart.

Then he had the horrifying crash headed to the white flag. Had I managed to survive such a spill, I would have been too stunned to even function. Ten minutes afterwards, he was smiling and talking about it as if he had merely brushed the wall.

Never again do I want to hear someone say that Briscoe is not a worthy driver or that he lacks the intestinal fortitude to be a racer. That guy has gigantic stones and he’s one heck of a driver. On top of that, he’s extremely fan-friendly. If I were to win the lottery and start up a race team, he’d be among the first drivers I would call. He’s certainly earned my respect, not that that’s worth anything.

All in all: I’ve already said it a couple of times, but this was one the best races I’ve seen in years. It was entertaining and nerve-wracking all at the same time. Some of the drivers and some racing purists may not care for it, but no one can deny that they put on a great show. It will be debated for weeks to come whether or not this is the direction that IndyCar should be going. I don’t know the answer because I can definitely see both sides.

The other big problem was that even though it was a great show – no one saw it. I’ve seen sparse crowds at tracks before, but Saturday’s may be the smallest I’ve seen. Robin Miller estimates three-thousand. It’s hard to estimate when you’re there, much less while sitting on your couch at home. Hopefully, the Verizon IndyCar Series will return to Fontana next year. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with Robin Miller’s pointed, but dead-on video message to Mark Miles that he recorded just after the race. Love him or hate him, Robin Miller usually ends up being right on most things. I think he is here, also.

There’s a lot to chew on after this race – probably more than any race I can remember in a long, long time. But that’s what we do here. I look forward to hearing your perspective. It should be interesting.

George Phillips

87 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Fontana”

  1. What a race! I was quite surprised by owners and drivers comments post race. I understand it’s dangerous, but trashing the race on TV is a no-no, I thought? Traveling at 200+mph isn’t “safe”, even in testing. No one wants to see anyone die or hurt, but it’s an inherent risk.

    Now, I’m a newer fan (4 or 5 years) to Indycar. Its pretty clear that the problem with IC has very little to do with the on track product. Those running the show like a pie chart are the problem.

    • Right! I think some of the drivers have forgotten about Tony Renna (as did I in my reply on down), he flew and died alone on the track in a test. As I said below, waking up is a risk….

  2. Best Indycar race in ages (2013 Indy 500 or 2014 Indy 500, Kentucky 2011, or Chicagoland 2010!). This is the exact kind of racing that made me become an Indycar fan! So I really hope the aero package isn’t changed going forward to spread out the field. Safety wise a little less blocking probably would be a good thing for the Indycar drivers, and that particular thing is up to them. I was less than impressed with TK, Power, and Montoya. To be honest since the oval controversies have started my respect for TK/Power/Wilson has dropped. Until 2011 I was a fan. Drivers were pretty split and I’m on Ed/Marco/Rahal/Foyt/Daly and Karam’s side! I thought it was interesting that Justin Wilson thought Fontana was unsafe since he was trying to take an LPM2 up Pikes Peak.

    Not sure how Honda was that good, but this might have saved the Honda Indycar program. It is worth noting that nothing Honda is doing racing wise is working this year. Their sports car program is a disaster, and Mclaren F1 is literally the 2nd worst team in F1. The MotoGP team is not a championship contender, the Indycar program is in the same boat, and even the Acura PWC program is only ok.

    Still bored by Briscoe. I was really glad Rahal won instead. However, Briscoe seemed ok with the closeness of the racing so I guess that’s something.

    Rahal’s win and non-penalty isn’t that much of an issue. I mean first of all he’s been really close to winning multiple times this year. This isn’t like David Ragan winning at Daytona. Penalty wise I agree with George. The penalty system is kind of silly, but not getting an in race penalty is the norm in Indycar 2015 (which I don’t understand). A penalty in the race (Karam) is the oddity. JPM and Helio have both gotten away with a lot (RE: Indy/JPM) so I’m not sure why Rahal shouldn’t get the same treatment. Incidentally had he been penalized Rahal might still have won. There were enough cautions for him to get back to the front.

    Cautions+Downforce=Close racing and fun!

    • I can’t believe you were a fan in 2011 when the massive crash in Las Vegas killed Dan Wheldon, one of the most personable and successful guys out there. If you were, I cannot understand your attitude.

      I love IndyCar racing, and I love the drivers who provide me with this amazing show race after race. Do I want one or more of them to die to “put on a show” for me? Absolutely not!

      Rahal deserved a drive-thru penalty. What happens now? A fine and points reduction? Whoopdy doo. Yes, he may still have won, but that’s doubtful. A lot of others may have won also, like Castroneves, Power, and Briscoe, but they were all taken out by other drivers. As reckless as Rahal was, I have doubts that he would have survived coming from the rear a second time.

      Wednesday penalties suck. If they can’t call something like a pit infraction during the race, we need new people in race control. It didn’t take a genius to spot this infraction. I think this was a definite gift to Honda. Incidentally, Castoneves deserved a drive-thru at the Indy GP for avoidable contact. Again, stupid to penalize him several days later.

      Personally, I think Rahal should buy himself a large handful of lottery tickets ASAP. And a thank you steak dinner to the Race Control guys would not be out of order. That was a gift he didn’t deserve.

      Oh, and George, I’m thinking maybe it’s time for Ed to retire. Now he’s reduced to blaming his spotter? Can’t you just see his reaction if someone had done to him what he did to Newgarden? He’d be ready to punch him out, LOL.

      • Now any race on an oval other than Indy is “pack racing”. Has nothing to do with what happened to Dan Wheldon, unless you conclude that the drivers lack the experience to be driving on ovals. Which is a whole other issue.

        • That’s completely untrue.

          • Its true and you know it.

          • Nope. Nobody has ever said that any of the racing at Milwaukee, Iowa or Pocono in the last 10 years has been “pack racing” (here’s why: because it doesn’t look anything like “pack racing”). And nobody has said that the DW12-era racing at Texas has been “pack racing” (here’s why: same reason). And nobody has said much of anything about the last few years of racing at Fontana, either (here’s why: because the field has gotten strung out, for the most part). But some folks have taken exception to what they saw on Saturday at Fontana, because it’s been the first race of the DW12-era where you had cars 3-, 4- and sometimes 5-wide, with some parts of the field bunched enough that if a wreck happened between two cars, you could have 10-15 cars arrive on the scene in less than a second (i.e. too fast to be able to make any kind of reaction to avoid the wrecked cars). Mind you, this wasn’t nearly as “packed up” as Vegas 2011 was or many of the races of the IRL era, but I get why some people looked at this race and had some flashbacks to four years ago.

          • All I know is that racing like we saw at Fontana is why I became an Indycar fan, and that TK/Power/RHR et al did closer racing 2000-2010.

          • Might something have happened at the end of that era that you mention that might have brought the risks of this type of racing into much starker contrast?

    • Downforce = drag = equalizer of aero kits.

  3. Straight opinion on this right now. Drivers making millions of dollars as daredevils, I get that. But it sounds like they want to end the series based on Dan Wheldon’s death and that is silly. It is a dangerous sport, many have died before Dan and some will die in the future. It is the truth. Someone reading this might die in a car also. Waking up is a risk. Driving 230 wheel to wheel is also, but a highly compensated career.

    I have really been a Will Power supported but I think I am done with that. I have never cared for Kanaan as he seems fake, he is quickly becoming my most hated driver.

    NASCAR has a parade on these types of tracks, fans are upset and leaving, but they aren’t leaving for Indycar, they are leaving motorsports for football or anything else. Indycar is more in danger than NASCAR and to hear multi millionaire drivers cry about the series is disgusting. You chose this field, you aren’t the only ones to lose a friend or co-worker in a tragic accident. Matter of fact, as sad as it is for Dan’s family, they are better off financially than many who lose a parent, read the paper, many normal folks die each day without an 8 figure bank account.

    Sorry, but this is fact. If Kanaan can’t cope with danger, park it, you have been out there too long anyway!

    I don’t think Indycar should die because Dan Wheldon did. It didn’t when Brayton, Smiley, Dana, Hickman, Moore, Rodriguez or any of the numerous others died. Pack racing is dangerous, but drivers need to use some restraint if they are concerned. Otherwise, make your money, put on a show and pray you stay safe.

    • And since I know I am going to be bashed for this opinion I will say one more unpopular thing: Rewind back to 2009, the majority of diehard Indycar fans thought Wheldon was a greedy punk who was undeserving of another quality ride, much how people talk about Briscoe now!

      Thanks George for your writing.

  4. George, I can only disagree with one thing you said here because I believe “racing purists” LOVED the show on Saturday; it’s the pansy-a$$ed BORING ROAD COURSE cry babies who have been trying to ruin our sport since the arrival of boring road course driver turned car owner Roger Penske and his ilk on the scene in 1971 who didn’t like what they saw! They are out in force on other websites going so far as to call the race “almost criminal!” I am so sick and tired of these folk. If you call yourself a race fan and didn’t like what happened out there on Saturday then, to paraphrase “Little Al”: “You just don’t know what racing means!”

    I’ll leave you all today with this thought: would we even be able to watch Open Wheel racing in the U. S. today if this “we can’t do this, someone might get hurt” mentality was in vogue after May 30, 1964? Or after May, 1973? These pansies are ruining our sport and have been for 40 years! I’m darned tired of it myself….

    By the way Andrew: TK is a TOTAL fake. Just hang out for two months of May like I have the past two years and you’ll see just how much of a fake he truly is. Briscoe, on the other hand, and Hinch, Newgarden and Pagenaud (I could name a couple of more) are real guys out there having a blast and loving the attention they get from fans!

    Phil Kaiser

  5. tonelok Says:

    I see the next “split” forming right before our eyes. There is clearly a divided opinion on pack racing. What’s amazing is how quickly people forget what happened in 2011. The answer to your question George of accidents and death luring fans, the answer is yes, that’s why many people watch but no one really wants to openly admit it. The the average fan is not very smart . They either don’t have time, or are not interested in complexities or, watching strategy play out. The question is as a fan do you side with Ed Carpenter or Tony Kanaan? IndyCar is facing critical juncture and has to make a decision on which direction they want to go. Either way they risk losing a couple of drivers in the process. I’ll call it the Mike Conway effect. This could be a come to Jesus time for some drivers.
    Meanwhile the attendance at Fontana and up coming Milwaukee is a entirely separate dilemma. Some more tough decisions are coming down the pike.

    • What is IndyCar doing now to promote Milwaukee to prevent an attendance issue? How are they leveraging the phenomenal race we witnessed on Saturday to create hype for Milwaukee? My guess nothing. Just show up and the fans will come mentality simply won’t work. Milwaukee/Chicagoland area in the past has proven they will support IndyCar but IndyCar needs a full force fan friendly marketing effort and their drivers and car owners promoting, hyping the next race not bitching and whining when from a fan perspective they have totally missed the mark.

  6. Ron Ford Says:

    There are no “multi-million” IndyCar drivers. To call any of the current drivers “total fakes”, “boring”, “punks”, “pansy-a$$ed boring road course cry babies”, etc. as some have done here already says more about the character of the writers than the drivers. It takes no courage to plunk away at a keyboard to demean a driver.

    And to somehow compare how Dan Wheldon’s family is “better off financially” than someone else who has lost a parent and think that is relevant and worth saying is simply disgusting.

    I am sure that many drivers long for the day when they can be the REAL DEAL like Mr. Kaiser and live up to his lofty expectations.

    • It was his chosen profession and his family was brought into that. To end Indycar forever over it is insane, but that seems to be what it is coming to.

      Facts are facts, call me what you like but Wheldon’s family didn’t have to worry about losing their home or posessions, where their next meal would come from like others who die each day.

      Facts are facts, hard to swallow but true. Block me if you don’t like it. That would be what Indycar diehards seem to love, running off other fans!

    • Thanks Ron. That really needed to be said. Any one that calls what they term “road racer” a “pansy assed, boring road course cry baby” is ignorant, or I will just call them stupid because they don’t have any idea what they are talking about and have obviously never driven a race car. Anyone who has claimed to have “hung out” for 2 years with Tony Kanaan and says that about him, needs to be questioned. He suffers from the familiar 465 mindset.They can’t help it. The types don’t get out much and pretty much just hang out with people of the same ilk and frankly tire the rest of us with the ignorant xenophobe, all oval mentality claiming that ovals are the only answer. There is only one problem- they don’t actually attend any of the oval races they claim to support. They don’t know how to get outside the city of Indianapolis or in their minds. Road racing has always been a threat to those people because they don’t understand it and they struggle with that. An as a matter of fact, there would probably be no IndyCar if Roger Penske was not around. Who gave the IRL relevance again during the horrendous period from when he joined in 2001 or so to when it merged. He practically owns the Indy 500. Anyone that can’t acknowledge that fact is … well see above.

      • My expectations aren’t “lofty,” they are real, from watching near 50 years of auto racing of all kinds. You two don’t know anything about me or how many tracks I’ve been to, but yet you want to call me all kinds of names for me stating facts and having an opinion of my own which disagrees with yours. Nice people you are. Democrat much?

        I never said I “hung out” with TK, why don’t you read what I did say, you lying a$$! I said I was in the garages at Indianapolis for the entire month of May for two years in a row watching the man NOT interact with anyone unless a camera was on him. THAT’s what I said.

        And I have driven a race car and on a road course as well, which makes it easy for me to describe these boring road course drivers the way I do. it’s NOT racing, period. Slowing down to 25 mph to “negotiate” a hairpin turn is by definition NOT RACING. You can call me names all you want behind YOUR keyboard, but the proof is in the stands: US Oval racing was at a zenith in the early ’70s before boring road courses were added nonstop to the series (at the suggestion of a certain Mr. Penske, as well as Carl Hass and U. E. “Pat” Patrick) and attendance has gone down precipitously ever since. These are facts, NOT opinions, which is all you couple of boring road course fans have to spout.

        • tonelok Says:

          So now I’m boring and and a lying ass too? I live in Louisville do you want to meet in say Columbus and have coffee and get me away from my keyboard and say that to my face? Its called braking and I hate to break it to you but it is a part of racing. That comment you just made just proves my point. You started it so you can reap the rewards. You raced on a road course? Really? If you were going 25 miles an hour to “negotiate” a hairpin you’re weren’t racing and I’m far from a Democrat pal. You are exactly right about one thing, the proof is “in the stands” you just said yourself . Speaking of facts, tell me what happened to the attendance at the Indy 500 from 1996 on until the merger?

          • Wow, you’re a hillbilly from Louisville, who’d have thunk? I always LOVED Louisville when I used to play the Phoenix Hill Tavern, City Lights and Butchertown Pub down there while stealing all your sweet southern girlfriends, hahahahaaaa! I always thought L’ville was a very friendly town. But I heard Phoenix Hill closed a couple of weeks back after over 30 years, too bad, it was a great place.

            I called road courses boring, not you, but you’d have to understand the English language to figure that out, huh?

            So now you’re challenging me to a fight? Really? You’re gonna beat me up like we’re on some school playground? That should let everyone know just what kind of a person you are. Don’t like my opinion? Beat me up! Honest to God.

            You tell me when and where buddy, but remember here in Indiana we have open carry laws, so bring it on….

        • Ron Ford Says:

          Actually, most of the races I have attended have been ovals. For example, I have attended every Milwaukee Mile race since 1949. It is your habit of being so judgemental about this driver or that driver that I find sad. I think you are the person who other folks move to the other end of the bar to get away from.

          • Whoop de-freaking do! Ron Ford has attended a bunch of oval races, wow!

            I know, you’re just so much smarter and more sophisticated than anyone else here aren’t you, Mr. Ford.

            I AM judgmental about that driver or this because it’s still the United States of America and if I don’t share your holier than thou attitude about auto racing or its drivers well, by God I’m still allowed to in this country, so get over yourself and give your “looking down your nose at us commoners” crap a rest. YOU don’t know everything, YOU haven’t seen everything, and YOUR opinion is only just that: YOUR “JUDGMENTAL” opinion.

  7. I listened to the first half of the race on radio. I was stunned to hear comments from at least one crew chief (I did not catch whose) that “the drivers hate this kind of racing, the people in the seats hate this kind of racing.” Then to come home and catch the end of the race and to hear the comments by a number of the drivers.

    The problem is obvious. For some of the drivers, this was only their third oval race. Inexperience on ovals by some of the drivers contributed to the accident in Las Vegas that caught up and killed Dan Wheldon. If I was out there with drivers with little oval experience, I might be scared too.

    The answer is not to get rid of oval racing, it’s to be sure drivers are properly trained on ovals and road courses. If that means drivers have to spend more time in Indy Lights or the feeder series, then so be it. The American drivers, with much more experience on ovals, did not have a problem and were much more positive.

    This kind of racing has been going on for 100 years or more. Its crazy to now say this unless you have an agenda. And anymore, everybody seems to have an agenda. And for Indycar, its to get rid of ovals, to become F1 Lite.

    Thank you Phil for your comments on Roger Penske and the damage he has done and is doing to Indycar racing. Most people don’t realize what he has been doing behind the scenes.

    We are living in an age of irrationality. Last week included better examples of that than I ever believed could happen. Now even Nascar wants to top the stupidity of Indycar with the fans. They are now going to take away fans confederate flags in the infield. Pander completely to extreme left wing politics. Even if it destroys their own sport and drives away their fans. Amazing, simply amazing. A very bad week for motorsports in the US, and not because of the on track product.

    • “For some of the drivers, this was only their third oval race.”

      That is true of exactly one driver: Stefano Coletti. And he was so far behind for most of the race that I doubt that anybody cared to ask him or his crew chief much of anything on Saturday. The rest of the guys (including fellow rookies Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves) have plenty of career oval starts (just that they were in USF2000/Pro Mazda/Indy Lights for those latter two).

      “Inexperience on ovals by some of the drivers contributed to the accident in Las Vegas that caught up and killed Dan Wheldon.”

      I’ve been reading this comment from you for almost four full years now, and I’ve been responding to this comment with this question: could you please name names? Though you may not have known much about them at the time, the guys who touched off the Vegas wreck had dozens of oval starts in Indy Lights among them. And there was almost a similar wreck a couple of laps before the fateful Lap 11 wreck touched off by no less than Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan, two longtime IndyCar veterans. So, for once and for all, please enlighten us on exactly who you mean was to blame for Vegas 2011.

      “The American drivers, with much more experience on ovals, did not have a problem and were much more positive.”

      Yeah, and the two most vocal guys against Saturday’s race have basically zero high speed oval experience. Oh, wait. One has 17 years of experience in IndyCar, including an Indy 500 win and a championship from the days before the IRL introduced road racing at all (that’d be Tony Kanaan) and the other has two Indy 500 wins, a CART championship from the days when they were doing 230+ MPH in qualifying at Fontana and nearly 300 starts in various NASCAR series (that’d be Juan Montoya). But, hey man, whatever fits your narrative.

      As for me, I’ve got some complex feelings about what happened on Saturday. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to leave a comment here later today.

      • I would love to see a chart that shows the oval race experience of most of the drivers. It might be interesting. Does 20 oval races make you an expert at the highest level in Indy car? 50? 100? That there was even one guy out there with 3 oval races to his credit is insane.

        I saw the first 16 laps of that race at Las Vegas. Go back and watch it, and have a list of the experience on ovals of the drivers and watch. It was obvious before the crash that several of those drivers should never had been out there.

        Kanaan and Power drive for Penske and Ganassi. The two guys who have been pushing the move to F1 Lite. If they can’t play with the big boy any longer, perhaps they need to hang out with Jeff Gordon in retirement.

        • So, that’s a “no” on naming names, then?

          I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: other than the first 5 years of the IRL, it’s been 30+ years since we’ve seen any sort of graduation of drivers into top level American Open Wheel Racing that had hundreds upon hundreds of oval track starts. And even if we replaced, like today, right this second, every driver in IndyCar (other than, I suppose, Ed Carpenter, because his background actually was oval track racing) with guys from World of Outlaws or USAC Silver Crown or wherever, what’s the difference? If there’s enough downforce on the cars, on the big ovals, you’ll still have cars spending most of the race capable of racing an inch from each other while able to cut from line to line in mid-corner and cars unable to get away from each other. Have we got any guarantee that Donny Schatz, Brad Sweet, Joey Saldana, Bobby Santos, Kody Swanson and A.J. Fike won’t wad up a bunch of race cars at Fontana, simply because they have a bunch more oval starts? Because those guys (to my knowledge) have zero experience in downforce cars and I’m not aware of any of them having any experience in cars that’ll do over 200 MPH. Seems like we’ve just exchanged one set of problems for another.

        • Russ Thompson Says:

          Not sure if the formatting will work, but here is your answer, leading into the race Saturday:

          DRIVER Oval Starts
          Helio Castroneves 175
          Tony Kanaan 164
          Scott Dixon 136
          Ed Carpenter 106
          Marco Andretti 78
          Ryan Briscoe 68
          Ryan Hunter-Reay 64
          Graham Rahal 51
          Will Power 47
          Takuma Sato 34
          Juan Pablo Montoya 27
          Charlie Kimball 26
          Sebastien Bourdais 23
          Josef Newgarden 19
          Simon Pagenaud 19
          James Jakes 19
          Carlos Munoz 10
          Pippa Mann 10
          Jack Hawksworth 8
          Tristan Vautier 8
          Sage Karam 3
          Stefano Coletti 2
          Gabby Chaves 2

          • Russ Thompson Says:

            And for the sake of argument, here are the numbers leading into Las Vegas in 2011:

            DRIVER Starts
            Helio Castroneves 156
            Tony Kanaan 145
            Dario Franchitti 125
            Scott Dixon 117
            Tomas Scheckter 100
            Dan Wheldon 100
            Vitor Meira 94
            Paul Tracy 89
            Ed Carpenter 87
            Buddy Rice 82
            Danica Patrick 72
            Marco Andretti 59
            Davey Hamilton 56
            Ryan Briscoe 52
            Oriol Servia 47
            Alex Tagliani 46
            Ryan Hunter-Reay 45
            EJ Viso 34
            Graham Rahal 32
            Will Power 28
            Townsend Bell 25
            Alex Lloyd 18
            Mike Conway 18
            Takuma Sato 15
            Simona De Silvestro 15
            Ana Beatriz 10
            Jay Howard 9
            James Hinchcliffe 7
            Charlie Kimball 7
            Sebastian Saavedra 7
            JR Hildebrand 7
            James Jakes 6
            Pippa Mann 3
            Wade Cunningham 3

          • Excellent stats. Thanks, Russ. And to flesh out my point further, I’ll also offer up that Wade Cunningham and James Hinchcliffe (the two drivers who made initial contact at Vegas) had 37 and 12 Lights starts on ovals before that, respectively (Wade winning six of his starts and Hinch winning one of those starts). Foyt-like numbers? Of course not. But it’s not like those dudes just wandered in off of the street with zero experience. Same as the majority of the current field.

          • I don’t think the amount of oval races a driver has run is super relevant. Two things though. Drivers who came up from an oval background probably will be less likely to be upset by the close racing. Two, the biggest danger at Fontana seemed to me to be some pretty harsh blocking. I really think if drivers cooled it on the blocking a bit both Indy and Fontana would have been “safer.”

          • Ron Ford Says:

            Very interesting Russ. Thanks for taking the time.

          • Great stats. Thanks. And they say a lot. These are, or should be, the best drivers in the world. Many have precious little experience on ovals. So how much experience should a driver have on ovals before they run in Indycar? And are most of them now only getting the experience in Indycar?

          • Again, Bob, these sorts of numbers are probably pretty representative of what “total oval starts” has looked like for major American Open Wheel Racing for close to 30 years now (with the first 5 years of the IRL being the exception). It’s nothing new at all. Let’s look at the 1990 CART standings. Here are the drivers in the top-15 who I’d classify as having grown up on predominantly oval tracks:

            1. Al Unser, Jr. (though his upbringing was pretty balanced, having moved into Super Vees and Can Am by the time he was 19)
            7. Mario Andretti
            10. John Andretti
            11. A.J. Foyt

            And that is literally it. Everybody else (those being Michael Andretti, Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, Danny Sullivan, Arie Luyendyk, Eddie Cheever, Raul Boesel, Scott Goodyear, Teo Fabi and Scott Brayton) all probably had less than 25-30 total starts on ovals in their careers before getting into an IndyCar. Does that mean that they all shouldn’t have been there?

          • sejarzo Says:

            Buddy Rice, with all those IRL oval starts, chopped down from the high line all the way to the inside line on about Lap 7 of the LVMS race and nearly took out a car. It’s not on any replay but I saw it through my binocs while listening to the radio of the driver who got chopped…who was told by the strategist to just back off and let the idiots play it out in front.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Yes, there is nothing that better expresses what automobile racing is all about than a confederate flag. Those darn commie, pinko, tree-huggin’, whacko, left-wing liberals are once again up to no good.

      • It’s their God-given RIGHT to display their flag, just like it’s your “right” to BURN a United States flag!

        What is it about the Second Amendment that liberals like Mr. Ford fail to understand? Wait, they understand it, they only want it applied when they AGREE with it!

        Move on Mr. Ford, we still live in the United States for now, and we still have Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression here whether you agree with it or not!

  8. jhall14 Says:

    George, Outstanding commentary! You have touched on everything I was thinking during and after the race. My son actually 1st said Carpenter was becoming a whiner after his crash at Indy. It is now official.

    I love Matchett. He gives a true explanation of how he or we all feel during the race. When they are 3, then 4, then 5 wide at one time, he conveyed what we were all thinking at those times.

    There are some strong opinions stated here concerning this race. All I will say is this, all these guys/gals are my heroes. “They know what they signed up for” per Marco. IndyCar has evolved into a pretty “safe” sport, compared to what it once was. Fuel tanks are pretty much bullet proof, the Hans Device, the cockpit, etc…, when back in the earlier days, a simple spin and contact with the wall, could snap a driver’s neck, and end their life. The drivers are my heroes because every time they strap that IndyCar on, they are vulnerable, but they continue to defy the odds. They give me that “rush”. Just go stand as close to the fence as you can at your track. You can feel the power, and some say they are under-powered, and the speed these drivers reach. If that does not give you “respect” for what they do, then go take a 2 seater ride, that definitely will.

    We all love IndyCar for the wheel to wheel racing. This didn’t have it for a corner or 2, this race had it for 500 miles. Think about it, most accidents happened on the straightaway, not the turns.

    In closing, I loved this race. As A.J. said, this is racin. They all defied the odds. But that is what we expected, right?

  9. Patrick Says:

    I don’t agree with the decision not to penalize Rahal because it was the fueler’s mistake. Racing is a TEAM sport. In baseball if the shortstop makes an error the pitcher still has to deal with the consequences. Even though the incident happened in the pits it caused a yellow for debris. That alone should have called for a in race penalty in my opinion.

  10. If you didn’t find that exciting Saturday you need to follow another sport or at least another racing series. People say well nobody shows up at the ovals to watch. If IndyCar started putting on exciting shows like this on a consistent basis at these ovals the fans will be back! The problem just like the IndyCar schedule there is no consistency. There is momentum to build off for the next race but IndyCar will fail to market the product and not capitalize.

    What should be said at the end of these exciting races by drivers and owners is if you like what you saw on Saturday you should turne into the next one because it is going to be just as awesome. But no we get bitching and complaining rather an opportunity to advance the series. Absolutely unreal!

    Tim Cindric, Will Power, TK etc.. do their sport no good by bashing the racing. They just kill any new fan that might want to jump aboard as they come off as whiny babies. If you live near Fontana and heard or saw the race on TV you might be like I am definitely going next year but then you hear these guys bitch and moan about the racing and figure they won’t deliver on the excitement of this year.

    This series doesn’t survive without the fans attending or watching so the drivers and owners should shut their mouths from time to time when the fans are enjoying it rather than killing the spirit of some positive momentum going into the next oval race. If they don’t feel comfortable for safety reasons then they need to retire or go to another racing series where they feel more safe.

  11. ugh. Just for once I’d like to enjoy a race without having it turn into a pie fight afterwards.

  12. How about Briscoe at Foyt next year? Sato has shown that they have the means to compete.

    • I was hoping it would be Briscoe at Foyt THIS year instead of Hawksworth!

      Damn John, really wanted to meet you at Indianapolis this past May! George met me and he’s still around to talk about it (lol), we’ll have to try harder next May, hmmm?

  13. SOCSeven Says:

    1. really outstanding race

    2. Robin Miller is a rock star and absolutely told it like it is.

    3. Indycar seems to be held together by us old-timers. When we see a non-call like on Rahal we scream BULLCRAP and turn away in disgust. It’s painfully obvious TGBB is back in control and political bias is the rule.

    4. I want to give a great big huge thanks to Firestone for their tires. It always seems that races are completely ruined by millions of tire marbles on the track reducing the whole thing to a one lane parade.
    This time every lane was wide open throughout and the thanks can only go to Firestone and the Big Red Chicken.

    You were brilliant Firestone. Thanks again and again!

  14. Randy Holbrook Says:

    This penalty situation is just amazingly stupid. How Rahal was not given at least a drive through is beyond me. I loved Robin Miller’s take on things, as usual he is dead on. Great column George.

  15. Agree with everything, George. The “pack racing” label is intriguing. It’s like “liberal” in the political arena. You just slap the label on something and it carries a taint, no matter if it’s deserved or not. Was this “pack racing?” I don’t think so. Chicagoland in the old says was pack racing. To me the definition of pack racing is like Talladega … three wide, five deep, with no where to go. To me, if you can back out of a two- or three-wide situation if you want, which you could at Fontana but often couldn’t at Chicagoland, then it;s not “pack racing.” The dangerous part of a pack is taking away the option for the driver to dis-engage or back out of a three-wide and make other plans. EVERY race has a pack for the first 10 laps or so. Who knows if Vegas would have settled down? The front few were already starting to go single file, if I recall. Academic. Nowadays if cars go two-wide for more than 100 yards it’s labeled DEATH FESTIVAL PACK. I was thrilled with Fontana. I also thought it was the best IndyCar race in years. If that race happened at Indy, they’d be making a bronze statue to commemorated it right now. I was very surprised to hear the negative reaction from the drivers. I’m in no position to say if it was too dangerous, so I’ll let others decide that. I am in a position to say if every IndyCar race was like Fontana, I’d order my weekend around the race, something I don’t do now.

    • Hmmm. Interesting points here. Yes, there is a level of nuance that seems to be getting completely missed. It appears that there is a murky “gray area” between Kansas 2010 (a dreadful “follow the leader” race where nobody could pass anybody, and where you and I couldn’t even drown our sorrows with a beer in the infield afterward, because they’d shut off alcohol sales at the checkered flag) and Vegas 2011 (where the entire 34 car field was covered by just a few hundred yards after 11 laps, and the condition of the new pavement indicated that tires and handling might not have gone away much over the course of the day, resulting in super long stretches of the race being just like the start). The tricky part is finding that elusive sweet spot where the fans (all of them, including warring factions on all sides of the debate) and the drivers (all of them, including the ones who have gotten understandably jumpy about big levels of risk and the ones who don’t seem all that bothered by big levels of risk) are going to be happy. That is an INCREDIBLY complicated matter, and I guess I’d have to say that I’m relieved to not have to be in the group of people in charge of hitting that microscopic sweet spot.

      • DAMN YOU, Geek, bringing up the draconian KS alcohol policies. I thought Fontana hit the sweet spot dead on. Others disagree. Drivers like to throw their cars into questionable situations and then blame everybody else when they end up in the wall, like lifting was an impossibility. As you said, very hard target.

        • Yeah, I mean, I was a lot less aghast than it seems some folks were on Saturday, I think, but I understand why this type of racing makes a lot of people queasy now, both fans and drivers. For me, I think it was a tick toward the “too dangerous” end of the spectrum (I’d probably prefer slightly smaller groups of cars, like no more than 5-6 covered by a second…there’ll still be plenty of passing but the risks of giant crashes caused by everybody driving on top of each other is decreased substantially), but the big question is how to walk that fine line.

    • To me the biggest difference is that a pass can be completed. The worst days were cars pulling along side and being unable to complete a pass until they pushed the inside car so low that they had to choose between lift, put a wheel off the bank, or make contact.

      What I didn’t like from this Saturday were some of the erratic moves. Rahal in particular continually pulled along other drivers and, rather than holding a lane, moved up or down the track and squeezed off the driver next to him. Once Helio called the attention to it, the action became difficult to miss.

      Take moves like that out of the race and there are 2 fewer cautions and the field is spaced further out.

  16. It was funny how the older drivers who were there in 2011 don’t like this, but the younger drivers don’t seem to mind the “pack racing”.

    It reminds me of an old quote from AJ Foyt, “If you’ve never been scared in a race car, you’ve never gone fast enough, or you’ve never been hurt in one.”

  17. oh, and the penalty, agree: horseshit no call. As I tweeted, not calling the penalty on Rahal was like taking a shit on a Mona Lisa of a race. So many things … Never have bought the “don’t want to affect the outcome of the race” rationale. EVERY penalty, no matter when it happens, impacts the outcome of any contest. Second, I respect refs who make the same call no matter what point of the contest it happens. Foul in the first minute should be a foul in the last. Third, the policy should be: if an infraction impacts another competitor’s race, it’s a penalty on the spot. Run over a hose? Doesn’t screw any one else up, so, yeah, nail them after the race, But this incident impacted all the other drivers’ races by causing a yellow, which causes packing up and pitting and many other things that impact the race. Grow a set and make the call, IndyCar.

  18. billytheskink Says:

    This entire race represents so much of what I love about auto racing. Speed, competition, uncertainty, danger, risk, drivers doing something I’m neither willing nor able to do, my favorite driver winning (not a frequent occurrence in any series I follow). I’d have loved to have been there, I’d have watched this race in 200 degree heat. It was thoroughly thrilling and totally unforgettable.

    Perhaps, though, it is a problem when the ENTIRE race is like this. It was a sensory overload for me, I cannot imagine what it did to the drivers. Perhaps asking drivers to take such risks on literally every lap is too much. Then again, perhaps it isn’t. I’m not qualified to give an answer of much value here. If the series returns to Fontana, perhaps a balance between Saturday’s insanity and the more spread out races of the recent past should be struck.

    In fairness to Race Control, they have been penalizing pit infractions post-race all year. In fairness to everybody else, this practice is odd at best (and breaks with Indycar’s past policy, not to mention that of most other series) and flat-out terrible at worst. I struggle to see how a post-race points penalty is really satisfactory here. Of course, I also struggled to see what Briscoe did to deserve a penalty…

    Thank you, George, for such a level-headed commentary and for giving us readers a forum to give our own (hopefully) reasonable comments.

  19. Indy car needs to learn how to market

  20. Carrie LaRue Says:

    I’m pretty new at this Indy Car stuff – just been following since 2010. I’m learning so much. I used to hate road/street courses, but learning about strategy involved has helped me to appreciate them. George, your comments are straight up and I agree with most of what you said. I do hate pack racing because of the Las Vegas race outcome, but I have to admit it was exciting to watch. I keep hearing what the driver’s think from anyone BUT the drivers, it seems.

    What disappointed me most about this whole event was the blame game. Blaming race control, blaming other drivers (when clearly it wasn’t that person at fault), blaming crew . . . it’s time to step up and take responsibility even when that isn’t comfortable.

    The future of the sport concerns me. How does Indy Car attract new fans?

    Thanks for the interesting words.

    • If race control would be transparent, consistent and immediate with its actions then nobody would have a word to say. They are none of the above.

      What Indycar pulls is akin to not calling offsides against the Cleveland Browns when they’re behind in almost every game just to make sure the games were “still competitive”.

      If Race control had a decent handle on things, you’d eliminate most of the drivers blaming other drivers. They have to be equivalent to the NFL where an educated fan knows the calls before they’re announced and can watch a replay and know how a challenge will turn out with at least 90% accuracy.

      The sport needs to stop being second guessed… but the way to do that isn’t to tell the fans to stop second guessing. The wa to do it is to give them nothing to second guess.

  21. Perspective: Tony Kanaan won the CART pole at Fontana…in a proper, balls out open wheel car in 2002…with a lap time of 31.43 seconds. Oriol Servia was the slowest qualifier at Fontana in 2002 with a time of 32.28 second. Fast forward to 2015: Simon Pagenaud takes the VICS Fontana pole with an average lap time of 32.88 seconds. TK qualifies 8th with an average lap time of 33.15 seconds.

    Simon’s time would have been last in the field by a significant gap in 2002 and TK’s would have put him outside the 105% rule.

    Do you think TK appreciates the fact that he now has to drive a dumbed down aero package with far less power just to go 11 mph slower and not be able to pull away from the field as his talent would allow him to (and did for years)? The only world in which that’s progress is the current iteration of Indycar. (But hey, it keeps Coletti on the lead lap for much of the race…)

    To me, the reason for this is clear: the powers-that-be at Indycar fear that they will not maintain enough interest in the 500 unless it’s the (artificial) Temple of Speed by technical gimmickry that neuters the car at other venues. That does nothing to enhance the legacy of IMS and Indycar racing; it only serves to diminish it.

    What would the series say if MIS approached them and said “Hey, we want you to come here, but only if you let the cars run the same aero as at IMS. Are you game for the challenge?”

    Adding downforce in the supposed name of safety had a lot to do with the end result at LVMS. Pagenaud commented that it didn’t take real talent to put the car on the pole this year.

    Regarding Carpenter…the race series his family owns prides itself on being the home of the world’s fastest and most versatile drivers…yet he has never been competitive on the bulk of the schedule. Maybe if he’s so unhappy he should try NASCAR, because I’m sure the family can work him in at the Brickyard 400.

  22. Fantastic race mared by race control and the potential for another dark day. Why were the cars so bunched up and can we expect this at Pocono?

    • Cars are bunched because the extra wing creates more drag and equalizes the aero kits. Plain and simple. Run low downforce and the efficiency of the Chevy kit lets them run away.

  23. AaronM1978 Says:

    I really wouldn’t consider the race at Fontana a pure pack race. To me it seemed like it was just several lines that a pass could be attempted. At worst the passing car would get a good run but stall out as the got out of the draft. It’s not like the cars automatically go into a turn 4 wide. There has to be a driver in the cockpit to initiate that 4 wide situation. The drivers have to have respect for each other and not put themselves in a reckless situation that can get someone killed. Just because you can go 4 or 5 wide in a corner and possibly come out of it Ok doesn’t mean you should.
    I don’t know for sure if it will help or not, but I’d like to see indycar make all 750 horsepower available for all races to better match the down force level. Give them the ability to overcome the drag and make a more definitive pass on the lead car. In the CART era, drivers could adjust their boost level to balance out performance vs reliability. If the team expires an engine before the mileage limit, it is on them to pay for it. The teams can make the decision to play it safe and get a decent finish knowing they’ll not have to risk losing an engine. On the flip side, do they want to go for the win by turning up the boost and risking having to pay for a new engine?

  24. Only two quick comments:

    I’ve been a Briscoe fan as long as I can remember, and it started from him being willing to talk to me for 15min or so in Gasoline Alley one year. Really nice guy.

    I don’t think this race was truly the feared pack racing. The restarts were crazy, but the cars stretched out pretty good after a few laps.

  25. In recent years, Fontana has always been the most nerve-wracking race and I’m glad that it’s now in the books. The history books, that is, and deservedly so.

    I didn’t watch it on TV because it was way out of my time zone on this planet, well, and because of what witnessing that battlefield of a crash at Las Vegas in 2011 on live TV and the gloom and sadness that followed it for a week or more: I was well aware that Fontana is a risky place to race, just like Mike Conway and EJ Viso have been when they didn’t show up there.

    Call me whatever you like but, I chickened out on watching it live, after the new aero packages had those wild flips at Indy this year. However, I did watch it on youtube, knowing no one was hurt, and it was indeed edge-of-your-seat stuff I had last seen when IndyCar last raced at Chicagoland.

    Fontana has multiple lanes, so the mostly 2- and 3-wide action at this year’s race was no surprise: sometimes 4-wide and even 5-wide overtaking manoeuvres had me shaking my head in disbelief of how all of this was possible for these drivers. Here’s my admiration to the drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series for pulling off this kind of action for 500 miles, even if Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay could not catch their wiggling cars anymore and bumped into other guys, taking some of them out in the process.

    This was not the same kind of pack racing which LVMS produced in 2011, this was a race that could only have happened at AutoClub Speedway in Fontana because of the many, many different lanes it provides. The cars did stretch out on Saturday, too. It’s just that they didn’t stretch out quick enough.

    Yet, it is too bad that the whole discussion about this race is a moot point because Fontana won’t be back anyway: it was certain from the announcement of the IndyCar calendar that the crowd size there in mid-June was going to be abysmal.

    Robin Miller’s suggestion on somebody staging a breakaway one-off non-championship race with a big prize at Fontana next September or October is a cool idea that could easily prove wrong the Boston Consulting Group’s suggested early end to the season.

  26. Ron Ford Says:

    I think the bigger issue here is that the opportunities to see in person the kind of exciting racing that took place Saturday are rapidly diminishing. It seems unlikely that the Fontana race will be on the schedule next year. IMHO IndyCar needs to really focus on helping promoters put folks in the stands. TV ratings will not do that. The same folks who watched the race from the comfort of their couch Saturday would likely be watching from their couch next year. The twistys are marginally profitable for the promoters so every few years new cities need to be found for a race. Forget the oval vs twisty arguments for a moment. If Fontana, Milwaukee, and Pocono drop off the schedule, what will replace them? So while the question of whether the kind of racing we saw Saturday is safe and sustainable makes for an interesting Monday blog session, the bottom line is that it no longer matters because that race will probably no longer be on the schedule.

    • Strangely on Twitter Curt Cavin said he expects Fontana to return, and to be in September. Fontana is struggling but in Indycar’s favor is the fact that Fontana has literally no other races besides the one Cup race and Indycar. No GRC, no Xfinity/Truck stand alone, no ARCA, and because of the sub-par location it doesn’t really work for concerts and other events. Homestead and Atlanta are two other tracks in a similar situation, and there are a lot of rumors of a Homestead return. I think the Mile is in trouble because Indycar is it’s only event, and Pocono already has 2 summer NASCAR races so it’s a lot less of a loss for them.

    • I agree again with you Ron. What does it take to get people off their asses and attend a race? Do you think people will rally and get tickets to Milwaukee? I live in Louisville and I’m thinking of driving to Milwaukee to witness what may be a final event there. What is the disconnect? People have no problem getting on the forums,bitching and complaining about this or that and have all these differing opinions but when it comes to showing up and really supporting IndyCar, fans flake. How do you explain to fans how different it is actually being present at an event rather than witnessing it on t.v.? There is no comparison. Why do 80,000 attend an NFL game? If you asked me, an IndyCar race is way more exciting, intense, and entertaining than a football game. The spectacle cannot be beaten in any shape or form and that is what IndyCar has going for it. Now they need to relay that to the public.

  27. Penalties not only need to be in race, but they need to be much more harsh. What happened to the 10 second stop and go? Breaking the rules should be accompanied by a race destroying penalty that creates a chilling effect on any thoughts of breaking the rules.

    Rahal, broke the rules. The blocking was ridiculous. The racing was clean up front until he got there. The worst part was the fuel hose. Don’t blame it on the crew member, blame it on the driver who had the manual override switch turned on so that it didn’t trip to neutral when he inserted the nozzle.

    Before anybody speaks up, google HPD refueling interlock and look at the video with Jon Beekhuis. It was designed to be triggered before the probe is engaged far enough that the car could pull on the hose.

    There is no legitimacy to a series that can’t decide a points battle on the track, or enforce rules.

    • sejarzo Says:

      I have received several private replies on “the forum” from crew members who have had it with the blatant cheating involving the override. One said that drivers are complaining about it in the drivers’ meeting but Barnhart won’t address it.

  28. jhall14 Says:

    52 responses George, I believe that has to be close to a NEW TRACK RECORD. Let’s hope Fontana puts some butts in the seats at Milwaukee, understanding it will be a different type of race.

  29. I have been covering or watching racing of all kinds since 1963. This was the best, most thrilling race I have ever seen!

  30. Make the MAVTV 500 not just the IndyCar season finale, but the track major event season finale as well, and do a joint promotion called Fan Appreciation Night at the 500

  31. I’d hate to be the boss of Indycar because no matter what happens in a race at least half of your fans will hate you.

  32. After contemplating and reading many comments about the race in Fontana, it is my opinion that IndyCar management is facing a crossroads that will ultimately make or break them. That time is right now! These are moments that cannot be squandered . They need to make a monumental decision on what defines IndyCar and where they want to go from here. They just presented this past weekend, one of the best races ever in many peoples minds in front of probably the worst crowd ever at Fontana. How ironic is this that? Some of the best racing on the planet is witnessed by almost no-one. If I were Mark Miles, I would not be sleeping very well right now and he better not be thinking about tennis. The question is, what is IndyCar going to do for an identity other than the Indy 500 and differentiate themselves and stand out in a saturated, over diverse, anemic motorsports arena?

    Is the answer putting a closed cockpit on an IndyCar and continuing events more like Fontana? Will that get peoples attention? The DW12 is up for a redesign and what has to be rethought is the windshield area in front of the driver, ahead of the steering wheel to better protect the drivers. What exists now is a joke. Of all the thought that went into the DW12, I am surprised they overlooked that area of the car like they did. The new design is going to have to incorporate more (going into the catch fence and obstacles flying at drivers, safety) than the current car has if this sport is going to survive on ovals. As much as the traditionalist in me does not want to see closed cockpits, this is the area that must change. The IndyCar as we know it may have to be fundamentally different for it to succeed in the future. I hope some serious thought is being put to this for the next chassis because it is crucial to the success of the series. The designers should be working overtime on this next new IndyCar because its design is crucial in its future.

    • Yannick Says:

      You are spot on with your comment about the crossroads IndyCar management is facing. My guess is Fontana won’t be back next year because 1) Mark Miles might have promised the promoter of the Boston street race the season finale for who knows how many years to come and 2) because the 2015 MAVTV 500 upstaged the 2015 Indy 500. Sorry for the negativity.

      To be honest, I was never a fan of Fontana as a racetrack for IndyCars because I feel the seams on the surface are too dangerous.

      After all the flipping cars at Indy, I didn’t watch it because I didn’t want to watch another of those live. And I didn’t, even though it happened. The skill on display at the taped MAVTV500 was stunning, though. But it must be said that there should have been a much larger number of blocking penalties than were actually awarded by race control. I was surprised by this.

      My guess is race control didn’t award a drive-through penalty to Rahal because he would have cycled back under the next yellow anyway and it would have been useless. Let’s see what the team is going to get for the fuel hose incident.

      I’m not sure if I will watch Pocono live but if they had already fixed the aero kits, I surely would.

      And I’m very much looking forward to Milwaukee, even though they pushed it back later into the night which makes it kind of uncomfortable from my time zone.

      It’s good to see that the posting with the most replies on George’s oilpressure blog is now about an actual motor race instead of a driver who was not held in high regard.

  33. Ron Ford Says:

    Milka Duno. (I’m just putting Milka out there George to see if we can break a “NEW COMMENT RECORD” )

    • How about this one, Ron: tony George. That should do it…

    • Milka Duno was a black eye to IndyCar and proof that if you bring sponsor money and want to race and IndyCar, you can. Talent is not required.

      • billytheskink Says:

        Rumor has it that Dale Coyne employed Milka in 2010 simply so she could break his record of most Indycar starts without a top 10 finish.

  34. Chris Lukens Says:

    I see that Fontana tied with Texas as the most watched IndyCar race this year on NBCSN.
    Two and one-half times more people watched Fontana on TV than watched Toronto.

    • The fact that Toronto ran at the same time as a Cup race (which Fontana did not) probably didn’t help its cause. There might be other stuff at play here, but I’d bet that that cost Toronto 100k viewers, at least as far as ratings go.

    • It would be interesting to see the hourly and half hour breakouts of Fontana race to see if the audience grew throughout the race. Momentum to capitalize on for IndyCar if this played out as I am sure the word spread via social media what a great race was on display and you might get a few thousands fans hooked to tune in and watch or even buy tickets to the next race.

  35. Britindyfan80 Says:

    I’m 50/50 on the pack racing scale as far as Fontana was concerned … yes it was tight out there but nowhere near lvms levels was when dan wheldon died.I think two things are at play here 1.if you thought it was too dangerous or not I am more worried about the relationship between indycar and its drivers by which I mean what % of the drivers would have to complain about the downforce levels pre-race for indycar to either listen to them or at least compromise somewhere in between ? As somebody who loves open wheel single seater racing full stop I know f1 in its history has had a uncanny knack of having its most controversial drivers meetings in the lead up to its worst accidents (if you have seen the Senna and rush movies you will know what I mean) and if death is bad p.r in sports it’s nothing compared to those in most danger of said sport moaning about safety to the bosses only to fall on deaf ears then the fall out from that injury/death is 10 times worse. And 2 … I don’t know about the states but this side of the pond wheldons death along with the superbike rider that same weekend in Malaysia were probably the 1st major motor sports series deaths of the social media era ( I’m not counting the Isle of Man t t bike racing as that makes the news if nobody dies in any given year!!). And that alone had a effect on how people may feel about it you only have to look at the modern online world to know that for every person that enjoys blood guts and beheading videos there’s another who don’t what any ball sports players to tackle unless they are 100% sure they will not scatch the opponents knee. I knew somebody who was full of life took up bodybuilding and got bulked up only to fall down the stairs at home and died aged 25… who is to say that is worse then an Motorsport death or an old lady dying of old age … to me they all suck but a racer at Fontana in a race like that is cooler way off living a life providing he/she understands the risks and knows at least up to a point those in charge will at least 1 out of 3 will protect/ listen/or learn if the worst was/ were/ or had happened. Im no nascar fan but God I don’t want oval racing/ tracks to die but maybe until a safer version of an catch fence is invented this will always be catch 22 for open wheel racing.

  36. So, where’s the balance?

    We DEFINITELY don’t want to ignore the drivers because they are **right there** and have the best perspective and appreciation of the danger out of anyone.

    At the same time we don’t want to ignore the fact that the negative sentiment after the race wasn’t shared, that some handled it and one guy is on the record as appreciating it.

    Where’s the balance? Where’s the middle ground?

    We don’t want to ignore the risk because this is definitely a dangerous sport; people can get crippled and killed at football, and there’s more contact in the NBA than people think, but in no other sport outside of motorsports do the competitors exceed 200MPH. People dying is not an acceptable way to market the sport.

    At the same time, there’s zero doubt that Fontana was still one of the most exciting races to watch in a long time. And the fans cannot be ignored because there’s no series without them.

    Where’s the middle ground?

    We realize that drivers are complaining, and even sniping at each other, and that this sort of negativity reflects ill on the sport. At the same time, we haven’t given credit to the fact that the complaints aren’t out of hate or spite, but out of caring about their profession and the series. If any of them hated it, they’d quit, but notice that their intent is to stay and make it better. Do we let negative portrayal be the real narrative of Fontana 2015, or do we take this as another point – like Las Vegas 2011 – where positive change is catalyzed?

    I don’t know how to make things better. I never did. And for all the rancor in all the comments sections of all the blogs covering Indycar, I realize that most people speaking up really do care about the series and want to see the best come of it. It’s just that some are caring like the Great Santini did and maybe there’s a better way to express it, but I don’t want the caring to stop at all.

    I don’t know… this should’ve been a race that came up smelling like roses, and somehow everyone – the drivers, the series management, the teams, and somehow even the fans – managed to snatch negativity from the jaws of excellence. Is this a sign that the series and fanbase is on the decline? Or that the core love is indeed there – even if it’s being expressed in a crazy way sometimes – and is enough to bouy it until something/someone/someevent pulls out out of the doldrums? Like what happened to the NBA in the 80s, when it came out of its nadir with Bird and Magic on the scene.

    I just don’t know. I know the balance, the middle ground is there *somewhere*. I just wish to hell and gone I knew where it was.

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