Random Thoughts on Texas

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If I was a casual fan and tuned into the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night, I’m not sure I would’ve bothered tuning into the EXPEL 375 on Sunday afternoon. I might have been tempted to rearrange my sock drawer instead. That option held the possibility to be more entertaining than a repeat of what I watched Saturday night.

Fortunately, I consider myself a die-hard fan. What I witnessed on Sunday was so much better than Saturday’s processional snooze-fest that it made the weekend worthwhile.

Now, if I was expecting some of the edge-of-your-seat racing of the early 2000s – I wouldn’t have even thought we were watching the same track. It used to be that cautions at Texas gave us a chance to catch our breath and relax for a few minutes. Now we look at cautions as an opportunity to spice up the show on the restart.

As the series has tweaked the aero package for Texas over the years; we’ve seen a few exciting races, but we’ve seen a lot of duds. Saturday night’s race redefined dud. There was one pass for the lead and that came on Lap Three, when Scott Dixon passed pole-sitter and teammate Alex Palou. The race was effectively over at that point. Palou took the lead on pit-stop shuffles and led for a total of six laps. Dixon led the other 206.

It is at this point where I would talk about all of the action going on behind the leaders, but that wasn’t the case. It was pretty much a single-file parade for most of the night. The only excitement came when Josef Newgarden punted Sébastien Bourdais out of the way and into the wall on Lap 56. Later on, James Hinchcliffe backed it into the Turn Two wall after losing the air to his front-end on Lap 160.

Yes there was some movement from a few drivers. Tony Kanaan ran in the Top-Ten for a while and finished eleventh, after starting twenty-third. Graham Rahal finished fifth after starting thirteenth. The driver making the most moves was Scott McLaughlin. I had been one of his doubters going into the season, but he showed me a lot in both races this weekend.

But Scott Dixon made it a very dull race at the front. The Ganassi team definitely has this track figured out, and Dixon now finds himself in familiar territory – first in points.

As mentioned earlier, Sunday’s race won’t go down in IndyCar lore as one of the greatest of all time; but it salvaged the weekend for fans of the NTT IndyCar Series – especially those that chose to attend the races this weekend.

The melee at the start should have told us that this race would be different. You have to wonder if someone has painted a bull’s-eye on the back of the car of Sébastien Bourdais. He got punted again in Race Two, before he even got to take the green flag – this time by Pietro Fittipaldi. The accident sent Conor Daly flying and landing upside down. It also ended the day for six cars; Fittipaldi, Bourdais, Daly Alexander Rossi, Dalton Kellett and Ed Jones. Bourdais was seventh in points entering the weekend. He leaves Texas in fourteenth. Alexander Rossi was in desperate need of a good weekend in Texas. He finished eighth on Saturday night, but was credited with twentieth.

Once they got going, Jack Harvey made an immediate move to third – strengthening his case to be taken seriously by the other drivers. Something he stressed in discussions regarding his squeezing of Rossi and Rahal on Saturday night. Unfortunately for Harvey, it was short-lived. He lost a rear-wheel bearing on Lap 90.

It looked like Sunday would be another Dixon runaway, but Rahal surged through the field and passed Dixon on Lap 140 and led for thirteen laps. With teams just making their final pit stops, Felix Rosenqvist lost his left-rear wheel, bringing out the caution. When the green flag waved, it looked like Tim Cindric had pulled a rabbit out of his hat by putting Newgarden out in front. But with twenty-three laps to go, Pato O’Ward made a decisive pass on Newgarden and checked out. He held on without much of a fight from Newgarden, and collected his first career IndyCar win.

TV Coverage: While I don’t have much to say about the coverage, the fans could do better. Saturday’s practice was delayed by rain for a couple of hours. NBC made what I thought was the correct move to not provide the scheduled coverage on Peacock. That’s one great thing about live streaming – you don’t have to fit the broadcast into a pre-set window. During the delay, I saw nothing but fans complaining on social media that there was no broadcast. Just what were they going to do, provide live commentary just to watch the jet-dryers go around the track?

We are used to seeing that because the broadcast window has already been given to them. Even then, if it looks like it will be an extended delay – networks will show alternative programming.

IndyCar fans are a hard bunch to please. Personally, I was glad to get to do other things as I checked on the status of the broadcast from time to time.

Is the Grass Always Greener? Just like that, we are almost a quarter of the way through the season. So far, it looks like Felix Rosenqvist may have jumped from Chip Ganassi Racing too soon. Four races in, Rosenqvist has a best finish of thirteenth (Saturday night) with his new Arrow McLaren SP team and currently sits sixteenth in points. The pressure on Rosenqvist to perform just increased, with his teammate earning his first win yesterday while moving to second in points. The powers-that-be with McLaren have already proven they are not afraid to pull a trigger quickly. If things don’t improve soon, might Rosenqvist suffer the same fate as Oliver Askew and James Hinchcliffe with the team?

Penske Drought: Team Penske won the last race of last season. This season, there are four different winners – two of them being first-time winners. Oddly enough, none of them drive for Team Penske. The team had two second-place finishes this past weekend to help the points situation, but they are the only one of the leading teams without a win – unless you count Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing as one of the winning teams. Maybe they are just waiting for May to start in earnest in a couple of weeks.

He Has a Point: Shortly after the opening lap crash on Sunday, Alexander Rossi said he would not have been caught up in the crash had they been allow to qualify for Sunday’s race. Instead, they lined up by entrant points again for Sunday’s race – just as they did for Saturday, due to Saturday rain.

Rossi showed that he had a fast car on Saturday night – at least fast enough to start ahead of fifteenth. It was reasonable to go by entrant points due to Saturday’s rain, but why did they not have a contingency plan in place to qualify for Sunday’s race, if possible. Choosing to go by e4ntrant points again on Sunday was the lazy approach.

Best Weekend? Aside from race winners Scott Dixon and Pato O’Ward, I would have to say that Graham Rahal had the best weekend of the non-winners. By finishing fifth on Saturday night and third yesterday, Rahal jumped from thirteenth in points to fifth heading into the Month of May at Indianapolis. He may be one to watch in the 500.

All in All: All I can say is thank goodness for Sunday’s race. If it had been as boring as Saturday night’s race – the wolves would be howling. Everyone seems to be clamoring for more ovals, but it’s hard to advocate for them when you see something like Saturday night’s race. While Sunday’s race was not the end-all, be-all – it was good enough to silence the oval critics…for now.

George Phillips

Reminder: Starting tomorrow, I will be posting (mostly)on a daily basis here for the Month of May. For the next four weeks, I will “try” to post here very weekday. So, don’t forget to come back here Tuesday and every weekday this month. – GP

8 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Texas”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    This race probably doesn’t need to be a double-header because I’m not sure drivers and teams want to risk their equipment in race 1 and find themselves in a hastily-repaired or backup car in race 2 and wind up with 2 poor results for the weekend. Given this view, one would expect the 2nd race to be better… and lo and behold. Even so, Saturday’s disappointing race did see Indycar’s first on-track pass for the lead this season.

    I’m a Rahal fan, so I’m biased, but his racecraft these past few seasons has improved dramatically and is among the best in the series. He doesn’t have the championship-level qualifying speed it does not seem, but he is capable of passing about anyone, usually cleanly.

    The melee at the start of Sunday’s race was a tremendously disappointing combination of poor driving at the back and some excessive brake-checking at the front (Dixon is one of the masters at the brake-check). I cannot blame Dixon because brake-checking is not against the rules and it is tremendously effective, but start and restart behavior is something I would like to see the series address in the future. I’d also like to see Conor Daly find his brake pedal…

    Sunday’s race largely resembled the Texas races in the universal aerokit era even before the PJ-1 stained the outside of the turns. That is not to say that more grip in the outside in through the turns would not have changed the way the cars race Texas, but passing with this version of the car has always happened at the end of the straights. Perhaps the track will receive another re-surfacing soon… if NASCAR’s next-generation car doesn’t take to the PJ-1.

  2. S0CSeven Says:

    Can’t reply with an iPad.

  3. The PJ-1 issue almost makes it pointless for IndyCars to run at Texas right now. Problem is, I think they’re in a catch-22 situation. Considering how few oval track promoters have any interest in IndyCar, and Eddie Gossage seems to still want them, they have no choice but to show up. It is however, a brutal watch. I’m sorry, but even Sunday’s race was no great shakes. As a Hoosier boy who grew up on oval racing, I actually found myself wishing they were at a street or road course this weekend instead of PJ-1 Speedway.

  4. jollinger Says:

    I may be wrong, but my memory is that ever Texas double-header, and most double-headers in general, are split between one decent or better race, and one bore.

  5. The traction compound may as well be called BS-1. Eddie, repave the place if you want to keep IndyCar. There are a precious few ovals left on the calendar.

  6. SkipinSC Says:

    I agree, neither race was the edge of your seat action we used to expect from Texas. Further, it was obvious that trying the high groove because of the NASCAR “sauce” on the track was an exercise in futility.

    I’m not a chemist and I have no idea why the PJ1 mix turns a good track undriveable and makes the racing almost unwatchable. At the same time I understand Eddie Gossage’s dilemma, having 2 NASCAR races per year vs. one Indycar race.

    But, until the chemists or the tire people can figure it out, what we saw may be what we’re facing.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Apparently the issue isn’t the PJ1 itself, which TMS largely washed off the surface of the track, the issue is that the PJ1 stained the asphalt and the darker asphalt does not grip the Firestone tires well. NASCAR used a traction compound at Texas for several years before they switched to the apparently grippier PJ1 (the Truck series guys used to complain that it wasn’t there when paired with Indycar at Texas), a compound that did not stain the asphalt.

      Also, I feel quite sorry for PJ1 the company, since their name has become a 4 letter word with many race fans even though all they’ve done is sell tracks drums of a product called “Trackbite”, which until a few years ago was primarily used by drag strips. Their primary business is motorcycle lubricants, they were the longtime sponsor of the AMA’s Arenacross series.

  7. more random thoughts and duds from Texas…quote:

    “F1 routinely features dud races with predictable conclusions, and minimal passing. It’s also a series that sells sleek, sexy, drama, stories, personality, confrontation, and has attracted a younger audience.

    IndyCar sells the 1985 finish of the Indy 500, and A.J. Foyt.”

    https://www.star-telegram.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs/mac-engel/article250973834.html

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