Random Thoughts on Iowa

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When you hear someone mention the law of unintended consequences, it usually has a negative connotation. It’s normally when someone has a seemingly bright idea, but there are a lot of bad things that go along with it that no one really thought of. The Iowa IndyCar 250s of this past weekend was the exact opposite. This event provided a very positive outcome from something that came about as a necessity of something bad happening – cancelled races due to a pandemic.

While the double-header at Road America was unique and was also born out of necessity, I hope that it is a one-year deal. I hope that by next season, things will get back to the real normal and that Road America will get back to a one-race event. There are usually so many support races over that weekend that there is always track activity from early morning until sundown each day.

I’ve never been a big fan of the double-header concept. I understand why the NTT IndyCar Series is using them so much this year, but as a rule I never really cared for them – until this weekend.

From a fan’s perspective, the Iowa IndyCar 250s were a big success. Although the weather was hot (what do you expect from the heartland in July?); it looked as if as many fans as were allowed, came out both nights and were treated to two nights of short-track oval racing.

Once this pandemic is over and done with, I would like to see this event remain a double-header – and that is something I never thought I would ever say (or write). I can see taking a day of vacation to spend a Friday at the track to take in two full days of racing, and then travel back on Sunday. In the past, I’m not sure I would have gone to that much trouble for a single oval race in Newton, Iowa. For two races, I would.

Qualifying was as interesting as I thought it would be, with each lap in the two-lap run determining the starting position for each race. Conor Daly was the big surprise, earning his first pole position for himself and for Carlin for Race One and third position on the grid for Race Two. Alexander Rossi had a moment in qualifying, which forced him to start Race Two in the twenty-first starting spot after starting Race One fifth. Zach Veach had an even bigger moment on his first lap that cost him his time in both laps. He started twenty-second in both races.

Friday night’s Race One was a better race than Race Two on Saturday night. Watching Simon Pagenaud come from the very back of the pack on Friday night to win, was something to behold. Who would have thought a Frenchman would put on a clinic on how to navigate a short oval? But that’s exactly what happened. He first took the lead on Lap 138. Then after pit stop shuffles – he took the lead for good on Lap 178 of 250; leading a total of 83 laps after starting last.

Unfortunately, Friday night’s race was also marred by two spectacular crashes that seemed to get more publicity than Pagenaud’s dramatic drive. Will Power’s left-front wheel was not mounted properly on his pit stop. On Lap 142, it came loose. Power veered to the right and hit the wall forcing the wheel to come free and bounce over Power’s car, narrowly missing the cockpit. It harmlessly rolled to a stop while Power’s car went into a series of violent convulsions as he was finally able to bring it under control.

As the field was coming back to green on Lap 156, after the caution for Power’s incident – the start was waved off. Apparently, Colton Herta was unaware and thought it was still a green flag. His car climbed over the helpless car of Rinus VeeKay and was launched airborne. The aero screen proved its worth as slow-motion footage and marks on VeeKay’s car showed that the nose of Herta’s car struck the shielded cockpit broadside, right where VeeKay’s head was. If that incident had happened last year with an exposed cockpit, chances are that VeeKay would have been seriously injured – or worse. Debris from the crash flew up and struck the aero screen of Marcus Ericsson. Had it not been there, the debris would have most likely struck Ericsson in the helmet. I have not been the biggest fan of the aero screen, but I’ll admit that it paid huge dividends on Friday night.

Saturday night’s race did not offer as much drama. Josef Newgarden pretty much dominated on his way to winning Race Two. He started on the pole and really only relinquished his lead on pit stop shuffles – leading 214 of the 250 laps. Pato O’ Ward kept things interesting for Newgarden, appearing to have the faster car. But his last pit stop was a disaster as they had a problem getting the left-rear wheel tightened. After a brilliant run, O’Ward finished a disappointing twelfth and one lap down.

This was Newgarden’s fifteenth career IndyCar victory, and his third win at Iowa. Curiously, this was also Newgarden’s first win since last year’s race at Iowa – thereby ending a twelve month victory draught for the reigning IndyCar champion.

I have never been to Iowa Speedway. In fact, the state of Iowa is the only state in the contiguous forty-eight states that I have never set foot in. I have heard that it is a fun race to visit, if only for the concessions alone. I understand you can get a pretty mean breaded pork-tenderloin sandwich at the track. Couple that with two nights of racing and what I saw from my den this weekend – I think I could be talked into going to Iowa sometime in the near future.

TV Coverage: NBCSN had some hits and misses this weekend. I know the goal is to minimize personnel on site, but I really miss Robin Miller and Kevin Lee on the broadcasts. Perhaps Robin Miller is not exposing himself to risks for health reasons. I know Kevin Lee did the Sebring broadcast on Saturday and has been busy traveling for his son’s budding racing career, but I hope he can make some telecasts this season.

That being said, I really liked the pit duo that NBCSN had this weekend. I know most won’t agree with me, but I’ve never been a big Marty Snider fan and I didn’t miss him this weekend. He’s knowledgeable, but I think he comes off as condescending. I liked Kelli Stavast and Dillon Welch together this weekend. They may be considered the B-team and I’m sure Dillon would rather be racing than following in his father’s footsteps – but I thought they worked well together. Other than Kelli referring to Marcus Ericsson as “Eric Marcusson” on Friday – I thought they both had a good weekend.

Although it is no surprise, I think we all know what James Hinchcliffe will be doing when he hangs up his helmet for good. He was good as a pit reporter last weekend, but I think his future will be in the booth. Although he and fellow-Canadian Paul Tracy don’t yet have the rapport or chemistry that Tracy and Townsend Bell have, Hinch was outstanding and they worked well together – except for that one time when PT accidentally called Hinch “Kelli”.

For the misses, I wish that NBCSN could try to follow the expected pit window and not be away at a commercial break during key pit stops. Yes, we have the little side-by-side window during most of the commercial breaks, but races are sometimes won and lost in the pits. Some pitted early, but most pit stops were expected around Lap 65 or so – right when NBCSN was away for a break on Friday night.

In their defense, I have an idea that their commercial schedule was blown up after an excruciatingly long invocation on Friday night. Don’t get me wrong – I am a proponent of an invocation just before drivers are to strap in and put their lives on the line. But I have heard entire sermons shorter than the invocation we were subjected to on Friday night. Once they were into it, there was no way NBCSN could tactfully break away in the middle of it for a commercial. I noticed that NBCSN did not show the invocation Saturday night. Wise move.

Dixon and Foyt: Robin Miller did have a pre-recorded segment comparing Scott Dixon and AJ Foyt that I thoroughly enjoyed. I know a few purists scoffed at the very idea that Dixon would be compared to Foyt, but I thought it was a fair comparison. It’s hard to compare athletes from different eras in any sport. Foyt and Dixon both excelled under completely different circumstances, but I have an idea that if you were to somehow put Scott Dixon into the sixties and Foyt in his prime into the 2000s – they would both still be very successful. For what it’s worth, I thought it was an excellent segment.

The Commands: I don’t know who made the decision to have the duo of soon-to-be retired Brazilian drivers Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves give the command to start engines on separate nights, but it was a good one. These two have been friends (and sometimes adversaries) since childhood. Now that they are both in their mid-forties and in the twilight of their respective careers, I’m glad that they are being recognized and celebrated – instead of just fading away. Now if we can only get them to say “Gentleman” instead of the NASCAR-originated “Drivers”, when it involves an all-male field.

More Pit Errors: This has been an odd season for the obvious reasons, but another way that history will remember the 2020 IndyCar season will be the amount of pit-stop errors that have plagued the first six races of the season. At first, it was blamed on the extended offseason and teams not able to get together and practice pit stops. But teams have been allowed back into the shops since mid-May and we are now six races into the season, yet we are still seeing major pit blunders by teams and drivers.

Twice this weekend (that we know of), we saw teams struggle to get a wheel tightened on a pit stop. On Saturday night, it cost Pato O’Ward at least a shot at competing for the win. Friday night, it caused Will Power to crash. We also saw the same thing happen a couple of times last week at Road America. Drivers are not immune either. Josef Newgarden stalled his car trying to exit the pits while leading in Race One at Road America. He finished thirteenth in that race. Scott Dixon was high in the running order when he did the same thing in Race Two the next day. He finished twelfth.

These are all mental errors on the part of drivers and crew, not mechanical errors due to a faulty part. At the most, there are eight races left in this shortened season. I tend to think that the west coast races won’t happen, so that would mean there are only five races left. The team that can eliminate costly mistakes in the pits will be the ones in the best shape this fall.

Andretti Woes: Don’t look now, but this season is turning into a disaster for Andretti Autosport. They have five drivers on their team and six if you choose to count the alliance with Meyer Shank Racing and Jack Harvey. Out of those five drivers, through six races – they have produced one podium finish (a third-place for Alexander Rossi in Race Two at Road America) and led a total of only eight laps.

Alexander Rossi got off to a horrible start this season – some his own doing, some the team’s doing and some bad luck. He has driven brilliantly in his last three races, despite having a mediocre car underneath him. Zach Veach had a surprising fourth at Texas, but has fallen deep into the obscurity that consumed his 2019 campaign. Marco has been Marco, and that’s all that needs to be said about that.

Colton Herta had been unspectacular, but solid going into Iowa. He started fourth and fifth in the two races this weekend, but finished nineteenth in both. Friday night was due to his frightening crash, but Saturday night was strictly due to an ill-handling car. Some will say that was due to crash damage, but it is their job to have the car race-ready regardless.

Ryan Hunter Reay has shown flashes of brilliance; like coming back to finish eighth at Texas after being sent to the back of the field. He has also done things that make you question his thought process; like brushing the inside pit wall on exit, two nights in a row at Iowa. He barely got away with it Friday night. It cost him twelve seconds on the track. But Saturday night, he did the exact same thing as the night before and it ended his race. To his credit, he put the blame on himself. Still, one has to wonder how long Michael Andretti will put up with performances like that from the former series and Indianapolis 500 champion.

Their chokehold on Iowa Speedway of winning seven of the first nine races there now seems like a distant memory. They have not won at Iowa since 2015 and did not even come close this weekend.

Andretti Autosport has a history of going through up and down cycles. The 2009 season was one where their four drivers (Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick and Hideki Mutoh) went winless the entire season. Not only did they fail to win a race, there was inner turmoil and they appeared out to lunch. This season doesn’t even come close to the disaster that 2009 was for Andretti Autosport, but they need to right the ship quickly. Fortunately, they tend to do well in the Indianapolis 500, which is now only two races away. They need for it to get here soon.

Worst Commercials Ever? I know we should never complain about a company willing to buy airtime on an IndyCar broadcast, but has there ever been a worse ad campaign than Liberty Mutual’s LiMu Emu (and Doug), that we were subjected to endlessly over the weekend?

I know if you are in the insurance industry, you are now expected to have ridiculous and annoying ad campaigns. If you need evidence, just look at GEICO’s long list of bad commercials (cavemen and geckos come to mind), Flo from Progressive and Allstate’s mayhem (some of which I actually do find funny, the first few hundred times I see them). But LiMu Emu? Please.

All in All: Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed this racing weekend. I got home from work on Friday about an hour before the delayed qualifying broadcast on NBCSN, but I stayed off social media so that I wouldn’t know the results. That led directly into the live race broadcast. Although Simon Pagenaud led most of the second half of the race, it still seemed like there were several who could win it. I did yard work on Saturday, then watched the replay of the Saturday afternoon practice on NBC Sports Gold, just before Race Two. Saturday night pretty much felt like it was Josef Newgarden’s to lose, but there was still a lot of action going on behind him.

Conor Daly was a factor in both races, but a late pit stop on Saturday night for tires didn’t work out so well and he finished thirteenth after finishing eighth the night before.

There were six different people on the podium over both race nights. Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Oliver Askew made up Friday night’s podium, while Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Graham Rahal all climbed the podium Saturday night.

Scott Dixon still leads the championship and has a cushion of forty-nine points over Simon Pagenaud. Josef Newgarden is only four points behind Pagenaud. After that, it drops off with Pato O’Ward in fourth place, but twenty-nine points behind Newgarden. Will Power rounds out the Top-Five in points, trailing O’Ward by twenty points. Right now, it appears to be a battle of the usual suspects that have won all of the championships since 2015 – Dixon, Pagenaud and Newgarden.

The teams now get a well-deserved break. After four races in eight days and five over fifteen days, teams and drivers get two full weekends to rest up and regroup before heading into a full month of August. It starts with Mid-Ohio on August 9, before practice for the Indianapolis 500 starts the following Wednesday. Indianapolis 500 qualifying takes place on the weekend of August 15-16, with the Indianapolis 500 the following week on August 23. The series wraps up August with a Sunday afternoon race at Gateway on August 30. By then, we should know the fate of the September west coast races and how the championship is shaping up.

It was good to have this burst of racing in July, after such a long offseason and just one race in early June. It will also be nice to have couple of weekends off before a huge month of racing in August.

George Phillips

Please Note: Susan has several doctor visits today and starts her chemotherapy on Tuesday. I also have a giant project due at work that will require night work. With all of the uncertainty surrounding her chemo and how she will be affected, there will be no post here on Wednesday, July 22. I plan to return here with a post on Friday July 25. Of course, with everything going on surrounding Susan’s health – that is subject to change, but I do plan to stay fairly regular here for the near future. Thanks for all of your prayers and continued support for Susan. – GP

8 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Iowa”

  1. Yes! Absolutely keep the Iowa double header. I love the racing there. Thanks for pointing out that six different drivers visited the podium this weekend. i hadn’t given that a thought.

  2. Why do you find Marty Snider condescending?

    I do think Kevin Lee is a solid pit reporter, but underwhelming as a broadcaster; his voice does not carry presence like Leigh Diffey, or past broadcasters like Paul Page, Ken Squier, or Bob Varsha.

    • To me, Marty Snider just seems a little combative. Sometimes he sounds like he is trying to stir things up and create controversy with his questions to drivers after an accident a la Nascar. For some that may be a good thing.

  3. Love the drivers actually being fatigued by all the racing. We don’t see that often these days. Loved the double header and having a Friday race.

    I do support the aero screen but I thought the talks of it saving multiple lives was dramatic. Close calls? Yes, but no one would have died and Rinus would still be here without the aero screen. Paul Tracy was being insanely dramatic about it. Will it save lives? Probably, did it this weekend, no. The way Herta launched, he would have still gone the same way, barely missing the helmet.

  4. S0CSeven Says:

    Just sayin …..
    Lost in the Herta crash was any mention of one of Indycar’s best safety features, the big ass ugly rear bumper of a few years ago.
    If Veekay had that safety feature (it was to prevent flying cars in a rear impact) there would be no need to discuss cockpit damage, Herta’s flight, Ericsson debris, fence danger, barrier danger, blah, blah …. it would have been a non-event.
    But instead we have people patting themselves on the back for surving an acident that didn’t have to happen if Indycar hadn’t removed a major safety feature from their cars.
    Butt ugly yes, but …….

  5. James Ollinger Says:

    To me Liberty Mutual’s biggest problem is the same thing Polaroid did when James Garner and Mariette Hartley did their commercials: they took something that might be cute once or twice and ran it repeatedly and often until you wanted to throw a brick through the tv screen.

    I can think of tv commercials I found more annoying, but for current saturation bombing, LibMu definitely wins hands down.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    After a rocky first two races, Indycar has put on good shows with fans at these last two double headers. It has been wonderful to see, frankly.

    I liked the qualifying format, though I could not really argue when I read someone point out that it was awful punitive to Simon for his mechanical issue. Still, it was certainly good television for qualifying.

    I would love to see Iowa remain a double header. Alternately, I would love to see the series visit twice during the summer. Maybe one race paired with ARCA and the Road To Indy and the other paired with NASCAR Trucks or Xfinity and the amazingly fun NASCAR modifieds (who were scheduled to race at Iowa this year before NASCAR scrapped the track’s schedule outside of the ARCA race). Well, double-header or not, I would absolutely have season tickets at Iowa if I lived within driving distance of the track.

    Also, Liberty Mutual’s commercials have nothing on Bridgestone’s “Wheel Goes Round”. I still have nightmares…

  7. LurkingKiwi Says:

    Marshall Pruett noted that Scott Dixon’s bobble at RA2 was due to the car being on fumes when it pitted, and not revving up on departure – they cut it far too fine, not for the first time.

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