Random Thoughts on Long Beach

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I have long suspected that the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach was similar in nature to what the Music City Grand Prix was in it’s inaugural running – a must-attend event for racing fans and motorsports dignitaries from all over the world. But when it comes down to the racing itself, it’s just mediocre. If you want good racing without all of the glitz of Hollywood, go to Road America or Iowa. If you want to rub elbows with some of the greatest names in racing – Long Beach is the place to go.

That’s not a put-down on what some are now calling The Monaco of IndyCar. Not at all. In fact, since Susan and I have never been there, we have circled April 10 at Long Beach as a "definite maybe” to try and make for next season. There are a few venues that longtime IndyCar fans must go to, and Long Beach is one of them.

Those that got to go to a special September edition this past weekend, were also treated to the crowning of the new IndyCar champion – Alex Palou. They also got to see Colton Herta close out the season with his second straight win and third win of the season.

There was not a lot of drama involving the championship, this weekend. What little drama there was going into the race quickly evaporated when Ed Jones ran into the back of Pato O’Ward’s car in the hairpin just before the completion of Lap One. O’Ward got turned around by Jones and had to watch the entire field go by before he was able to maneuver his car out of harm’s way and rejoin at the back of the pack under yellow. While everyone was trying to figure out a strategy to get O’Ward back in a competitive position, his car slowed on the front-straightaway on Lap 18. He had a broken right halfshaft, most likely due to the contact from Jones. Although they repaired the car and went out and ran a few more uncompetitive laps, O’Ward’s day and season were done.

Josef Newgarden did almost everything he could to keep things somewhat interesting. Newgarden was distant third coming into the weekend, but he got the single point for winning the pole on Saturday and he finished just a half-second behind race-winner Colton Herta. It didn’t matter. Palou was good enough to finish fourth in the race, which was way more than he needed. Newgarden did manage to leapfrog over O’Ward to finish second in the final championship standings.

Long Beach had its moments. There were some interesting passes around the fountain turn and in the Turn Six area, but Long Beach will never be known for edge-of-your-seat excitement. There weren’t even many individual strategies to keep up with. Once Herta got around Newgarden and then took the lead on Lap 34 – it seemed like it was Herta’s to lose. Unlike the Nashville race, Herta really never put a wheel wrong and he pulled off his second win in a row.

But I thought Long Beach was a good place to end the season and to cap off the last two seasons affected by COVID. After multiple schedule changes and cancellations, the 2020 season ended at St. Petersburg of all places – which is usually the site of the season-opener. This year, the season ended at Long Beach, which always runs in April. My hope is that we will finally learn how to live among this virus and next year’s schedule will go as planned.

But for a one-time deal, the race looked well-attended and everyone there seemed genuinely happy to have the NTT IndyCar Series back at Long Beach.

TV Coverage: It didn’t really matter if NBC had their best or worst outing of the year. Any opinions I had of NBC’s coverage began and ended with the presence of Rutledge Wood. I wish I was more tolerant of Wood, but I find his presence on any IndyCar telecast to be a distraction, a detraction and an insult. He brings nothing but fluff.

With the NFL and the MLB pennant race heating up, there are very few casual fans at this time of year that are just stumbling upon an IndyCar race. Yesterday’s viewers were hard-core fans that have no interest in what Wood is babbling about. He detracts from everyone else on the broadcast and pulls down the entire presentation. He adds nothing, brings nothing and is a waste of air time. I would rather watch driver Ed Jones deliver a stand-up comedy routine, than listen to Rutledge Wood blather on about a view from a party boat or the top of an over-priced hotel that none of us will ever experience.

Now that I’ve gotten that rant off of my chest, I thought the rest of the crew did a good job. There was one thing I caught myself wondering after the race was over. Marty Snider is a part-timer on IndyCar telecasts. Once NBC gets their portion of the NASCAR schedule later in the season, we rarely see Snider. Since May, we’ve seen Kevin Lee in the pits on every IndyCar broadcast, and sometimes in the booth – filling in for Leigh Diffey. Why, then, does Marty Snider get the top gig of interviewing the champion and hosting all of the on-stage presentations? Kevin Lee got the far-less visible job of interviewing the race winner of the season-finale – who is always overshadowed by the series champion. It seems to me that Kevin Lee is the number-one pit reporter, and that he should have gotten the better post-race job…but that’s just me.

The Meltdown: Those that have followed this site for years know how much of a fan I am of Helio Castroneves. I was ecstatic when he won his fourth Indianapolis 500 this past May. I laughed while sympathizing with him when he attacked IndyCar Head of Security Charles Burns at Edmonton in 2010, in a drastic mismatch that could have ended poorly had the oversized Burns not had a sense of humor.

But I can’t fully understand why Helio had such a meltdown over Alexander Rossi leaving the pits just in front of Castroneves. From what I can tell, Helio pulled up near Rossi and the two touched, damaging Helio’s suspension. He blew a gasket during an interview on Peacock, even dropping an F-Bomb to Kevin Lee. According to Paul Tracy on the race broadcast, Castroneves was still just as angry an hour later, not having cooled off one bit. According to Rossi, the two have been feuding for a few races. They will be fulltime quasi-teammates next season. This could get interesting.

The Crowd: To me, this looked like one of the biggest crowds that Long Beach has had in years. Since Long Beach became part of the IndyCar schedule after the open-wheel reunification in 2008, crowds at Long Beach have been decent but nothing like in the early to mid-nineties. Aerial shots showed some empty seats in more obscure sections of the track, but the grandstands looked surprisingly full. Was it because IndyCar was crowning a champion, or because Long Beach hasn’t hosted IndyCar in almost eighteen months? Perhaps it was both, but this was a good note to finish the season on.

Shorter Offseason: For the past few years, the IndyCar offseason has sometimes last as long as seven months. Today marks the beginning of the new IndyCar offseason, but there is some good news on what is usually a depressing day. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place exactly five months from today. The shorter offseason should help take the chill off of the upcoming long winter nights.

The Start: One of the problems at Long Beach has always been the start. As the field comes off of the hairpin, they have to wait to get into their rows of two. That usually leaves several rows struggling to get in line before the green flag flies. Yesterday was no exception. In fact, it seemed worse than usual. Once the first three rows got lined up, there was a gap before the fourth row came into view. By the time they came out of the hairpin, the first three rows (which were comprised of the Firestone Fast Six from qualifying) were gone. That could have been a good thing because Turn One at Long Beach is always a logjam and there are usually some cars that don’t make it past that point. Yesterday, there were only six cars going through – making it much easier to navigate.

The Grid: Yesterday, twenty-eight cars took the green flag at Long Beach. In a year of fairly high car-counts, yesterday’s race had the highest non-Indianapolis 500 car-count of the season. I did some unofficial research after the race to find out when Long Beach has had a higher car-count. My half-hearted research showed that the last time Long Beach had a higher number of cars in the field was in 1998, when twenty-nine cars started. That’s another good sign considering that as recent as 2017, only twenty-one cars started at Long Beach. In the final days of Champ Car, eighteen cars at Long Beach was the norm.

Don’t Be Stupid: Those were the words that a very frustrated Pato O’Ward had for Ed Jones, after his ill-advised attempt to pass multiple cars just before the corkscrew on Lap One. I can’t say that I blame him.

I am assuming that Ed Jones is not returning to the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan car. I am also assuming that Jones has no firm plans for 2022 and that he was acting in desperation for a good finish. Taking out one of the championship contenders in the last race of the season is not a good way to impress potential future employers. Jones started ninth and finished twelfth, after serving a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.

Many drivers with better resumes are searching for rides for 2022. I’m not sure Ed Jones will be considered over any of those. This is the second foray into IndyCar for Jones, as well as his second stint with Dale Coyne. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jones drove his last IndyCar race yesterday.

Sixteen and Counting: Sixteen years. That’s how long it has been since the NTT IndyCar Series crowned their champion before the final race of the season. If memory serves me correctly, the last time the penultimate race decided the championship was in 2004, when Tony Kanaan clinched the championship at Fontana before the series went to the second race at Texas two weeks later to close out the season. I also seem to recall that race being the only time that Kanaan ran a reverse paint scheme of his familiar 7-Eleven livery. Instead of the usual white tub with green sidepods.

Kanaan Reverse

Kanaan Traditional

Drive of the Day: Usually I don’t pick the winner of a race as the driver that had the drive of the day. I usually go for someone who had a good day and actually drove better than the eventual race-winner. This time, the Drive of the Day and the race win go to the same driver.

Colton Herta dominated each practice but slapped the wall in Round One of qualifying, relegating him to a fourteenth starting position. He wasted little time in the race and took the lead for the first time about a third of the way through the race. Herta ended up leading forty-three of the eighty-five laps, and led the final twenty-one laps. If you can show me who drove a better race yesterday, please do.

All in All: Alex Palou earned this championship. He had a fairy-tale season from start to finish. At twenty-four, he is only in his second IndyCar season. When he won at the season-opener at Barber, I thought it was nice for a young driver to win his first race, but I never gave it a thought that we were looking at the 2021 champion. I figured he would fade and said so here, many times.

Palou drove for Dale Coyne last season and apparently opened enough eyes. Many times, we fans will comment about certain drivers saying things like “If only they were in good equipment”. Well, Alex Palou gave some credibility to that saying, by showing us what a driver is capable of in good equipment.

But every time you though Palou was about to fade, he poured it on. In his last three races, he finished first, second and fourth to seal the deal and close out the championship. My hat’s off to him, for whatever that’s worth.

Now we head into a five-month offseason. Open seats will be filled in the coming weeks. Some well-known drivers will not have seats when the season starts. That’s sometimes painful, but it’s the way it’s always been. After Christmas, we’ll start getting glimpses of new liveries and then testing at Sebring will begin. Before you know it, the 2022 season will begin at St. Petersburg and the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 will be just around the corner.

On a Personal Note: Not that anyone was really wondering, but I have no plans to hang up my keyboard just yet. Susan’s health is going very well at the moment. She is looking good and feeling good. We are already discussing which races to attend next season. But we also know that things can go south very quickly.

Susan met a friend through the Pancreatic Cancer Facebook page, who was diagnosed the same day Susan was (July 7, 2020). Her friend texted her as we were driving back from Road America in late June, telling Susan that she was now officially Stage 4, as her pancreatic cancer had spread to her abdominal lining. Her friend passed away Labor Day weekend at the age of thirty-nine, with three kids under the age of twelve. That was a stark reminder how things can suddenly go terribly wrong with this disease.

Susan’s surgery in February was very successful. She wrapped up all chemo and radiation in early June. She had scans in early August, which all came back clear. Her hair has grown back completely (to the point where she says she now needs a haircut) and her weight has come back (in a good way). We attended her nephew’s wedding, three hours away in Knoxville this past weekend and she took a selfie of us, just before we got out of the car. You would never know by looking at her now, what all she has been though in the past year.

Car sefie

This is a long and drawn out way of saying that as long as Susan’s health is good, and mine is good (even at my ripe old age) – I plan to continue here for a while longer. When I no longer enjoy it, I’ll stop. For now, I’m still enjoying it as I have just finished writing about the IndyCar championship for the thirteenth time since the 2009 season.

George Phillips

22 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Long Beach”

  1. Denise Weltzin Says:

    Thank you for the fine reading this season; I”m happy Susan is doing so well. She is a warrior!

  2. Steven Kilsdonk Says:

    Hi George, Dan Wheldon was the last driver to clinch the championship before the last race, at Watkins Glen in 2005. I remember that because I re-watched that race a few weeks ago.

  3. Steven Kilsdonk Says:

    I’ll also add, the thought popped in my head at Road America, as the laps were winding down, and Palou was having a quiet run to a 2nd place finish: Alex Palou is going to win this championship, isn’t he? He keeps putting up these great results. And then Josef’s gearbox called it quits to solidify the thought…

  4. Good news that your not hanging up your helmet.
    Rutledge Fluff Wood. What can one say. It’s embarrassing. Dreadful. Degrading. I cringe when I see him and fast forward if previously taped.

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      I was curious who this Rutledge Wood is & why he appears on NBC’s IndyCar coverage……….

      RUTLEDGE WOOD
      Features Reporter, NASCAR on NBC

      Rutledge Wood currently serves as a features reporter for NBC Sports Group’s NASCAR coverage.

      Wood contributes reports on the storied raceways, unique towns and enthusiastic fans that make NASCAR an American treasure.

      Wood made his Olympic debut with NBC Sports Group as a reporter during the 2016 Olympic Games, and reprised his role for the 2018 Pyeong Chang Olympics.

      Wood has also contributed to NBC Sports Group’s coverage of Super Bowl LII and the Kentucky Derby.

      Prior to joining NBC Sports Group, Wood was a correspondent for FOX Sports 1’s NASCAR Cup Series pre-race show, NASCAR Race Day.

      He has also hosted and co-hosted several NASCAR events, including the annual NASCAR Awards Banquet.

      Wood served as co-host on History Channel’s Top Gear, the American iteration of the legendary BBC program, and Lost in Transition.

      Wood’s first experience in NASCAR came during his first job traveling the NASCAR circuit for Country Music Television’s mobile marketing activation.

      Soon after, he was hired by SPEED, where he worked for 10 seasons covering NASCAR.

      From an article entitled “Rutledge Wood joins NBC Sports Group as motorsports specialty reporter.”

      “NBC Sports Group today added reporter Rutledge Wood to its multiplatform coverage of NASCAR, Formula I, IndyCar, Global Rallycross and Mecum Auctions.

      Among his contributions, Wood will present features on the storied raceways, unique towns and enthusiastic fans that made NASCAR an American treasure.

      The announcement was made today by Jeff Behnke, Vice President of NASCAR Production for NBC Sports and NBCSN.”

      “Wood brings a unique combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to his work that will help us shine a spotlight on the tracks and communities throughout the year and bring them to life, “ said Beknke.

      • billytheskink Says:

        Rutledge Wood is also a Long Beach winner, believe it or not, taking the checkered flag for the pro-celebrity race back in 2013.

        That, of course, doesn’t make him a good addition to an Indycar broadcast…

  5. Rick Johnson Says:

    George, thanks for doing the blog. I always look forward to reading it, so I hope you continue doing it for some years to come. Of course, I enjoy your Indy 500 trivia contest the most.

    Fingers crossed that Susan remains healthy.

  6. While I think that NBC generally does a pretty good job, their coverage of season-ending races, such as this one, would be greatly improved if the on-air talent and the people directing the coverage had a better understanding of what each driver needed to do to win the championship. And yes, there will be math.

    As of the beginning of the race yesterday, Palou was assured that he would win the championship if he were to finish 12th or better—even if O’Ward got 53 points, the maximum number possible, by winning the race and leading the most laps. Yet even after O’Ward dropped out, I heard someone (Marty Snider, I think) say that now all Palou had to do was to focus on finishing 12th or better. Of course, since it was obvious by that point that O’Ward wasn’t going to win the race, Palou needed to do nothing of the sort. At that point, all he needed to do was to finish ahead of Newgarden, which he could do by finishing 23rd. (Snider corrected this eventually—perhaps half an hour later.)

    A bit later, I heard Leigh Diffey say that since O’Ward was out, there was no way O’Ward could finish ahead of Newgarden and retain second place in the championship. Of course, that wasn’t true, either. If Newgarden had dropped out at that point, he would have finished somewhere in the twenties and O’Ward would have retained second place.

    The worst, however, was that no one involved in the broadcast seemed to have any idea of the moment at which Palou clinched the championship, or the build-up to it. As of the beginning of the race yesterday, Palou led Newgarden by 47 points. That meant that, in order to catch Palou, Newgarden needed to win the race AND lead the most laps, which would get him 53 points, while Palou finished 23rd (which would get him 6 points). If, OTOH, Newgarden won the race but did not lead the most laps, he would get only 51 points. Since Palou was guaranteed 5 points just for starting, that would not be enough to make up a 47-point deficit.

    With 20 laps or so to go in the race, two of the 28 cars that started the race (Ericsson and Ilott) had dropped out, and another two (O’Ward and Veekay) were so far behind that if Palou had dropped out at that point, he still would have finished ahead of them. Still, that meant that if Palou had dropped out at that point, he would have finished 24th, which would not have been good enough to win the title IF Newgarden were to score max points. But in order to score max points, Newgarden not only needed to win the race, but he needed to get in front of Herta ASAP, because Herta was piling up a lead in laps led that would soon become unsurmountable. Finally, at the end of the 73rd lap, Herta reached a total of 31 laps led. Since Newgarden had led only 18 laps, and there were only 12 laps remaining, that was the point at which Herta clinched the two-point bonus for leading the most laps, which eliminated Newgarden from contention and ensured that Palou would win the championship, even if Newgarden had been able to pull off a late-race pass to win the race.

    It sure would have been nice to have NBC explain that Newgarden not only needed to win, but needed to take the lead by Lap 73, but there was nothing. If anyone from NBC reads this, maybe you could work on this next time.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I believe because Newgarden won the point for pole position, he was still in contention for the championship even after he was unable to lead the most laps the most laps. He could score 52 points for winning without leading the most laps (50 for the win + 1 for pole + 1 for leading any laps at all). If Palou dropped out and scored the minimum 5 points and Newgarden won and scored 52, then Josef would have tied Palou for the championship lead and taken the championship on tiebreaker with 4 2nd place finishes to Palou’s 2 2nd place finishes.

      This possibility, I believe, was correctly mentioned during yesterday’s broadcast by Leigh Diffey.

      • billytheskink Says:

        That said, I believe Diffey mentioned the possibility of a tie AFTER it was indeed off the table for Newgarden if he did not lead the most laps, which was when Veekay dropped out of the race with mechanical issues on lap 47 and finished 24th, the highest position that scores only 5 points.

      • Note that I said that Newgarden trailed by 47 points “as of the beginning of the race.” He was 48 points behind at the beginning of the weekend, but I had already taken the point that he won on Saturday into account.

        Diffey did point out that Newgarden would win the tie-breaker, which is right–I think. The first tie-breaker is most wins. If Newgarden had won at LB, both Palou and Newgarden would have had three wins. The second tie-breaker is most second-place finishes, where Newgarden had three to Palou’s two–but does Palou’s second place at Indy count twice, since it was a double-points race? Not sure. Anyway, I was assuming that Newgarden would win the tie-breaker. That is why, if Newgarden had won while leading the most laps and had gotten 53 points as a result, Palou would have needed a 23rd place finish, because 24th place only would have given Palou 6 points. (25th and worse scored 5 points.)

        • billytheskink Says:

          Good math indeed, I apologize for overlooking that you counted Newgarden’s pole point already.

          I would not expect Indy would have counted as two 2nd place finishes for Palou despite the double points. It was not said to count as two wins for Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015’s points tie with Scott Dixon (though Dixon’s win at the double points finale in Sonoma would have made that point moot, he takes the tie-breaker 3-2 or 4-3 in either scenario).

  7. billytheskink Says:

    Susan is continually in our prayers, George. Glad to hear that she is doing well, and that you intend to keep on truckin’ here at Oilpressure. This site is something I always look forward to during the offseason.

    Herta is fun to watch, as are many of the series’ younger stars. The generation of drivers who have come into the series since the introduction of the UAk cars have really seized control it seems, 4 of the top 6 in the championship came to Indycar in or after 2018.

  8. I didn’t really understand Helio’s meltdown either and I am getting sick of people using obscene language when they know full well they are on live tv. I believe there should be strong sanctions for this. Other examples are Wayne Taylor at the Daytona 24 and Kyle Busch a few weeks ago. Newgarden “celebrated” winning pole with a bunch of loud F bombs with the tv crew a few feet away. Grown men should have a little more self-control. I’m sure there are religious people watching as well as children. Morals in our society have reached gutter level and no one seems to care.

  9. George…thanks for all you do and prayers for Susan. One small correction. You said it had been 18 months since the last LB race but it actually has been 30 months. April of 2019 was the last race making it 2 1/2 years since INDYCAR has raced there.

  10. Thank you for everything this season, George. You are the first site I go to on Monday mornings after a race. Appreciate your insight and frank opinions. I’m thrilled to hear Susan is doing well.

  11. Kevin Lee certainly has paid his dues. He knows Indy Car & the drivers’ histories. He should be considered first, not a NASCAR centered reporter. In total agreement with you on Mr. Wood. Susan’s story is filled with hope & inspiration. It seems everywhere you turn, a friend or relative is struggling with this horrific disease. We wish her many, many healthy years ahead. I really enjoy your posts & share them with others often.

    • Dave frrom Mukwonago Says:

      Amen! Really sick of the Nascar folks on the broadcast, especially with the amount of passion and effort that Kevin Lee put forth for IndyCar. Continued prayers & admiration for Susan.

  12. George–I’ve been reading your blog faithfully since early 2010 and am thankful every year since that you’ve stayed with it. From a selfish standpoint, it will be a very sad day when you decide to give it up. A huge ‘thank you’ for keeping us informed and entertained all these years.

    And what a blessing for Susan’s recovery–an inspiration for us all. Wishing her a long life–and the two of you many happy travels (and racing memories)!

  13. I like Mr. Wood. I never knew how unpopular(?) he was. Long Beach is a blast. I went the year RHR won. There are so many different places and ways to watch racing at Long Beach and having someone like him give those different perspectives is interesting to this race fan.

  14. Really good to hear Susan is going well! I can’t remember how I stumbled across your blog George but I don’t think I have missed reading an entry since. It’s been at least 6-7 years. This day is always depressing since I quit the NFL. 5 months still seems like forever until an IndyCar wheel is turned. It’s hard to believe the DW-12 is 10 years old. OMG! It’s time for a new chassis. Also I would be interested to hear how you think of or, find IndyCar topics to write about especially in the off season.

  15. One of those problems being Rutledge Wood What he adds to the broadcast (it’s the same with NASCAR)

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