Random Thoughts on St. Petersburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Phillips

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

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

4 Responses to “Random Thoughts on St. Petersburg”

  1. Glad you arrived safely. Will be sending good thoughts all week to you two.

  2. Denise Weltzin Says:

    Here’s hoping you get some good positive results from your visit. All the best to you and Susan!
    And thanks for calling out PT & TBell for all the frothing on the Gold broadcast Saturday! It was a bit much!

  3. James T Suel Says:

    Was a good race, a lot of twist s. Power and Rossie blew there shot for a win. Newgarden and Dixon were solid all day. Newgarden and OWard had a good battle for a few laps, until Newgarden dove off. Glad you all are there safe. Hoping for all good results for Susan and you.

  4. So happy to hear you both arrived safe and sound. I do not miss driving in the snow one bit. I hope all goes well this week!!

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