Random Thoughts on Barber

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First of all, I must put out the disclaimer that I am typing this out on Sunday night in the car as Susan drives us back to Nashville, so there may be more than my usual amount of typos. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

As far as the race goes, I did a fairly straightforward race recap last night before we left the track. If you didn’t see the race and need to know what happened, my race recap would be a good place to start. However, as I pointed out yesterday – it is difficult to give clear explanations of a race when you were sitting up on a hill with no electronic aids or within range of being able to hear the PA. I plan on watching the race probably either Monday night or Tuesday night, but for right now – most of you probably know more about what transpired on Sunday than I do. But I will offer some thoughts on what I do know.

Penske struggles: Josef Newgarden had a phenomenal day after a bad weekend, starting sixteenth and finishing fourth. Simon Pagenaud also salvaged a decent day by finishing ninth after starting fourteenth. Will Power went the other direction after a spin – starting seventh and finishing eleventh. If you hear those three finishes, you would think it wasn’t bad – but it sure wasn’t great. This is a team used to competing for championships, not being content for the lower end of the Top-Ten. Six of the previous nine races at Barber were won by Team Penske, but they were definitely off of their game this past weekend.

Rossi struggles: At St. Petersburg, Alexander Rossi was good but not great. He qualified sixth and finished fifth. At COTA, he may have had the fastest car in the field, but his pit strategy backfired and he finished ninth. It happens. But this weekend, Rossi seemed a little off in qualifying eighth. He salvaged the weekend by finishing fifth.

Last year, Alexander Rossi was battling for the championship all season long. He finally finished a respectable second to Scott Dixon, who won his fifth championship. Even though he didn’t win the championship, he drove like a champion getting to that point to battle for it in the season-finale at Sonoma.

In two out of three races this season, Rossi has been good but not great. Driving like that will usually get a driver with a fifth-place finish in points – good, but not great. Rossi currently sits fourth in the points, thirty-six points behind points leader Josef Newgarden. He needs to pick up the pace if he wants to be in contention at Laguna Seca in September.

Schmidt improvements: Like Rossi, James Hinchcliffe has had a decent season thus far, but not great. The first two races saw Marcus Ericsson with terrible results. This past weekend, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports put it all together. Hinchcliffe was strong in every practice and qualified fourth. Ericsson had difficulties in qualifying and started twentieth, but he was strong yesterday and finished seventh – one spot behind Hinchcliffe in sixth.

Ignore the forecasts: With apologies to any meteorologists that are reading this, this weekend should teach you to not pay enough attention to weather forecasts if they are what decides whether you attend a race or not. For the past week, I’ve been checking several weather websites and apps to see what kind of weather we could expect this past weekend.

According to everything I saw, it looked like every single day at the track this weekend was going to be a washout. There was not a drop of rain during any track activity – and that’s not just for the NTT IndyCar Series. That goes for all of the series that were racing at Barber this weekend.

Attendance seemed a little down this year to me. I could be wrong, but it seemed like every day was a little off compared to years past. It is probably due to a combination of last year’s Race Day rainout and the gloom and doom forecast that everyone saw for the weekend. Those that came were treated to a great weekend of racing. If you are reading this and you decided to skip the race this year, try not to put too much stock in a dire weather forecast.

One suggestion: It’s not much of a secret that we love going to Barber. This was the tenth NTT IndyCar Series race there and we’ve been to every one of them. But after going to other tracks for the past few years, I see one area that Barber could improve on – concessions.

Most of our time at Barber is spent on the side where the pits are located, but we usually go over to the side where the Fan Zone is located at least a couple of days out of the weekend. This weekend, we went over there Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon. The Fan Zone had just a few of your basic concessions – corn dogs, funnel cakes and pizza by the slice. The side where the pits are offers even less. But after going to Road America and St. Petersburg, those two places put Barber’s concessions to shame.

Brown out: This is not Barber’s fault, but this year’s race was too early. The dogwoods were still dormant and the azaleas were barely noticeable. Worst of all, the lush green grass that is usually so manicured, was still brown from the winter.

The last few years, Barber has followed Long Beach. Perhaps it was tough to juggle Barber and Long Beach around Easter (on April 21 this year) and this was a one-time deal, but to fully enjoy the beautiful facility – they really need to hold this event later in April.

LED panels: I just realized that most of what I am typing is on the negative side, Well, sorry about that – but here comes another gripe. It seemed that about one-third of the LED panels did not work. Now I was only seeing the left-side panels and I was told that the right-side panels were working on those cars, but not on some others. The panels were introduced in 2016 and seemed to work fine for two years. Then last year they tried to get fancy with panels that would display graphics, such as waving American flags. The panels did not work properly. They were disconnected by Barber and they were out of the cars by May – with numbers on the roll hoop where the panels had been.

That was the look the cars carried for the remainder of last season. They went back to more conventional panels for this season, but they are apparently giving problems too. They seemed to work at St. Petersburg, but I heard reports of some malfunctioning at COTA. The same thing apparently happened at Barber. I don’t know what happened to the ones they used in 2016-17, but they worked fine. Change is bad!

Drive of the Day: Most would say that Takuma Sato deserves the Drive of the Day award (which doesn’t really exist), but if you win from the pole did you really overcome many odds? Some would day that Josef Newgarden should get it. After all, he started sixteenth and finished fourth. But he’s in a Penske car, that’s what he’s supposed to do. That’s why he’s the points leader.

No, I’m going to give it to a driver that had a disastrous start to his season – Zach Veach, who started twenty-third and finished twelfth. Good for him! He needed it.

All in all: As I said in last night’s post, I have an idea that there were lot of different pit strategies at work in yesterday’s race, but it was hard to keep up with them at the track as a spectator. I saw a couple f good passes in Turn Two, but nothing that had me holding my breath. As a spectator, things seemed a bit parade-like. I know better, but that’s the way it appeared from our spot on the hill. I’ll watch it in the next couple of nights and will probably have a whole new perspective.

But it was a fun weekend. I was with my wife, among friends and at a race track where the sun was shining. All was right with the world.

George Phillips

12 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Barber”

  1. I think you’ll be happy when you watch the broadcast, I think this was the most entertaining race of the season so far. To be fair, while the turn 1-2 grandstands give a visually pleasing view, it seems like almost no action happens there so I can see why you might think it wasn’t too exciting. But from turn 4 on, there seemed to be action happening everywhere. Several drivers made passes on the OUTSIDE of turn 5, including Mr. Outside Pass himself Pato O’Ward. NBC did an excellent job of covering the action happening behind the leaders.

    I’ve noticed the problems with the LED panels since St. Pete, seemed like several of the cars had them working on one side and not the other, or neither side was working. Same at COTA, same at Barber. Rather disappointing, because like you said the first generation ones seemed to work flawlessly so why are they suddenly not able to replicate that?

  2. There was a lot of passing in turn 5 as well as some great battles out of turn 8. I mentioned the LED issue at St. Pete and I saw no improvement this weekend.

  3. Shyam R Cherupalla Says:

    The start was bad either some drivers couldn’t see the flag not waving yet and took off or it was a jump to get ahead. Again somewhat of a thing thats left to chance. Like a yellow at the wrong time with pits closed affecting front runners, the rolling starts is not fair to guys at the back, they will always be at a disadvantage during the starts. Again Indycar should look at standing starts for Road and street courses, where possible.

    • Normally the rolling starts are fine. Mr. Jones has no excuse for that move other than a temporary lack of brain-power. The rule says you’re not supposed to overtake any car before the starting line on the first start of the race, he literally overtook 1/3 of the field before the line and had overtaken 3/4 of the field by turn 1. There’s no way he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong and it didn’t look like he was forced into the move, and the flag didn’t wave until he was already coming up the inside so he can’t use “not seeing the flag” as an excuse. That was really bizarre, but I don’t think it was due to an inherent problem with the rolling starts.

      • billytheskink Says:

        Agreed. Perhaps the green flag was flown a little too slowly given how well-formed the field was coming out of the final turn, but that is certainly no excuse for Jones’ Jean Alesi-style move.

        • Kinda reminded me of this video clip from Aussie Utes. 😀 I believe the story was there was like a 5 second penalty for a jump-start or something, so this dude realized if he got a 10 second jump-start he’d clear the penalty and still have the lead. Kinda brilliant actually!

  4. Thanks for the concession report of just the basic carnival fare . We all eat and everyone notices the food at events . I ponder what one could get too snack on at Long Beach GP ? Thanks George .

    • Long Beach has so many choices both inside the convention center and outside with food stands and food trucks.

    • Talón de Brea Says:

      In terms of concessions alone, Long Beach illustrates an advantage street circuit “festivals” have over purpose-built tracks “in the middle of nowhere.” In addition to fairly ample carnival/festival fare such as hot dogs, hamburgers, barbecue turkey legs, weird foot-long smoked Texas sausage, pizza, Mexican food, etc., there are restaurants that happen to be within the temporary circuit on race weekend: California Pizza Kitchen (pizza, salads, pasta), Islands (hamburgers, veggie burgers, salads, fish tacos), Bubba Gump Shrimp, Outback Steakhouse, P.F. Chang’s — there are more within the circuit, and still more a short distance outside the circuit. Throw in a couple dozen food trucks on site providing an eclectic variety, and the choices are extensive.

      The option of sitting on CPK’s patio, eating a barbecue chicken chopped salad, while cars race by during a practice session is not the most common in my race-going experience … but to be honest, I’ve gone with the Texas sausage on toasted buttered roll as often as I’ve had a relaxing sit-down meal with at least some sembalnce of nutritional sanity. After all, race calories and cholesterol don’t count — wouldn’t you agree, George?

  5. billytheskink Says:

    It was a really rough day for Penske overall. Power spins out and Pagenaud races just OK, like he has unfortunately raced at nearly every race with the UAK… Over in NASCAR his guys pit Logano out of the lead with just a few laps to go at Bristol and Keselowski lines up wrong on the restart and gets black-flagged… And his dominant Australian Supercars team and driver Scott McLaughlin failed to win for the only the second time this season…

  6. everyone notices and remembers the food at any event.
    a close second is restrooms. the event might rank 3rd
    if it is a really good product, otherwise, it’s parking.

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