Random Thoughts on Barber

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What started out as a bleak and dreary morning turned out to be a beautiful day. By the time the Indy cars were lined up for the starting grid, it was a beautiful day. Any hopes that anyone had of a race in the wet, were dashed about an hour before the green flag waved. A wet race might have made things more interesting, because rain can always provide a wild card.

Instead, all of the the top three qualifiers ended up on the podium after the race – just in a different order. Pato O’Ward started on the outside of the front row, and ran behind pole-sitter Rinus VeeKay for much of the race. On Lap 62 O’Ward passed VeeKay, with what was ultimately the winning pass of the race. The only up-front drama was whether or not Alex Palou would be able to catch and pass O’Ward. He could not.

With about twenty laps to go, I noticed that Palou was within 0.8 seconds of O’Ward. With about ten laps to go, O’Ward’s lead had grown to 2.2 seconds. It was obvious that if O’Ward did not make a mistake, Palou would have to settle for second-place. That was not a bad strategy considering that Palou left Alabama as the new points leader.

The down side of attending a race in person is that you don’t know everything that is going on until after the fact. I was unaware of what went on between Graham Rahal and Romain Grosjean, until we had gotten back to the media center. It was there that I first heard it mentioned in the post-race press conference. In fact, none of the podium finishers at the press conference knew about it either. When Pato O’Ward was told about It, he chuckled and remarked “there’s two egos.”

Another example of something I missed is that apparently something happened to Colton Herta early in the race. I know he spun later on while running seventh and was dropped to tenth. But something happened before then and I’m not sure what it was, since we have not watched the replay of the broadcast yet.

It was a very safe race, with only one caution (if you don’t count the aborted start at the beginning of Lap One); for Callum Ilott, who found himself stuck in the gravel pit. But safe does not always translate to exciting, and I have to say this is not the most scintillating race I have ever been to. But that did not seem to matter to the large crowd that was on hand. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and why wouldn’t they? There were race cars on the track, going fast on a beautiful day. What could be better than that?

TV Coverage: As I said earlier, we have not seen replays from any session this weekend. However, I have heard from several friends and family and I have seen reports on social media that there was no post-race show on Peacock. I have also been told that NBC actually promoted such a show on the broadcast. If that is true, that is inexcusable!

The New Villain? When Romain Grosjean came to the NTT IndyCar Series at the beginning of the 2021 season, he was coming off of a terrifying and fiery F1 crash that, quite frankly, he was lucky to survive. It was hard not to root for him. He was driving for an under-funded Doyle Coyne Racing team and he was producing results that were better than expected. Grosjean was very likable, always had a smile on his face, and genuinely seemed to appreciate the second chance he had been given – in his new career and in life. Fans cheered as he scored a very popular second-place finish in the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course.

Many thought from the way he was driving that he would score a victory for Dale Coyne in 2021. That did not happen, but he gave the car a good run throughout the end of the season. No one begrudged him for moving on to a better opportunity in the No. 28 car with Andretti Autosport. Since the start of this season, however, Grosjean has taken on a whole new demeanor. From the start of practice at St. Petersburg, he has been banging wheels and taking out competitors left and right, making a ton of enemies on the way. When told of what other drivers say about him, he scoffs and takes the approach that they are crazy.

I like Grosjean, but I found him to be a lot more likable last season than this season. For 2022 he seems to bring that entitled Formula One attitude that so many drivers bring with them from across the pond. That was what I found so refreshing about Grosjean last season. I am hopeful we will see the 2021 version of Grosjean, because he is already quickly on his way to becoming the villain of the 2022 IndyCar season. Just ask Graham Rahal.

The Old Guard: Being much older than the old guard, it pains me to say that they may be on their way to pasture. Will Power finished fourth, and Scott Dixon finished fifth, but it seems that is now a good day for them, instead of a mediocre day. Power is the only Penske driver without a win or a pole, while Dixon hasn’t won since Texas last April and hasn’t had a pole since last year’s Indianapolis 500. Then again, Power is the only driver in the paddock to finish in the Top-Four in all four races, thus far – so there is that.

This is definitely a younger man’s game with Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou, Rinus VeeKay and Colton Herta grabbing most of the headlines lately. Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden are the veterans fully in their prime, with Takuma Sato and Helio Castroneves wait for May to roll around.

Penske, Andretti and Rahal Woes: While each of these teams had at least one representative in the Top-Ten yesterday, some members of their teams struggled this past weekend. Though Will Power finished fourth, and Scott McLaughlin was sixth for Team Penske – Josef Newgarden seemed off-track pretty much all weekend, and finished fourteenth.

At Andretti Autosport, Colton Herta was fast in both practice sessions, but fell short in qualifying and started tenth. That’s where he finished the race. Alexander Rossi crashed early in the Saturday morning practice session. He came back strong and qualified fifth, but finished ninth in yesterday’s race. Romain Grosjean was fast in practice, but qualified a disappointing eight. He finished seventh yesterday. Three in the Top-Ten is nothing to complain about for Andretti Autosport, but you felt like each of those three left something on the table. Rookie Devlin DeFrancesco started twentieth and finished seventeenth, but he still gets a rookie pass for right now.

For Rahal Letterman Lanigan, it looked as if this was going to be the breakout race for Jack Harvey. He was leading the way in practice for the team, but he came up short in qualifying and started fifteenth and finished eighteenth. Christian Lundgaard continues to have a typical rookie season. He started fourteenth and ended up fifteenth. Graham Rahal continues to lead the way for his two young teammates. He struggled in practice, but qualified ninth and finished eighth. Like Andretti, you feel like all three of these drivers should be accomplishing more.

Drive of the Day: Obviously the three podium finishers had good days, they all started up front and finished up front, although you can understand Rinus VeeKay being a little frustrated after the race.

But two drivers answered the bell and their experience paid off for them. Simon Pagenaud started a horrific twenty-fourth yesterday, but was patient all day and finished eleventh. But his former teammate Will Power topped him. Power started nineteenth, but had good pit work and worked his way through traffic and ended up fourth – just one shy of the podium. It pays no points or money, but I give Will Power the Drive of the Day.

Month of May: Although I made no previous mention of it, yesterday was the beginning of the Magical Month of May. Beginning today, I will be posting here every day in the month, with the exception of Mother’s Day weekend next weekend. Come back here tomorrow to help me formally kick off the Month of May.

All in All:  It was a good day at the track. After an early morning weather system went through, the skies cleared and the rest of the day was beautiful – just like the venue. It was a safe race, and Alexander Rossi had the only really significant crash of the whole weekend on Saturday morning.

The three young drivers who ended up on the podium had all won races going into the weekend, but they showed their stuff and showed up their older and more experienced counterparts. It was fun to see O’Ward celebrate in Victory Lane and to hear his excitement in the press conference afterward. (Photos courtesy Susan Phillips)

PATO WIN

Press conf

The early start time gave us a chance to get home before dark. We got home just after 7:30 last night; which is far better than close to midnight, like it has been some years coming home from Barber. Thanks to everyone for following along while we were at Barber this weekend. Now we rest up next weekend, before heading to Indianapolis for the next three weekends. I can’t wait!

George Phillips

12 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Barber”

  1. Brandon Wright Says:

    They intended to have a post race show. Once the main coverage concluded there was a short pause and then Diffey came back on and said something like “welcome to the Peacock post race sh…” and then it cut off and said “coverage has concluded”. So something definitely went wrong somewhere, but it was frustrating as I’m sure we all wanted to hear comments from Rahal and Grosjean.

  2. I agree Grosjean is starting to annoy other drivers. he has had several instances of contact and doesn’t seem to take responsibility.

  3. OliverW Says:

    General random comments to your post.

    I agree that the old guard are moving into the twilight zone however Power has had a great season so far. Needs a win though. Have a feeling Dixon will know when to stop.

    Harvey leaves me perplexed and I’m wondering if he will be at RLL in 2023.

    Remember the results were greatly screwed by Ilott going off as it ruined all the three stoppers races.

    Andretti need to reduce to three cars and deliver I feel. Start with pit stops.

    Sato did well but I feel that he and Castroneves should next year do the 500 or nothing.

    For the quality of the series I would like to say thank you but goodbye to Kellett, Calderon, Johnson, DeFrancesco & Daly.

    I expect HMD to either take over Coyne or become an independent team and I would expect them to be competitive within a few seasons. Juncos the same but it’s the same old with Foyt while RLL & MSR need to up their game. Good to see ECR do well on a non oval.

    I felt the race and especially qualifying really showed the pecking order.

    The tv was atrocious. All the cut always from the race onto girls day or last years race or Rossi practise accident need to be shown before the race. Not during. Personally I find it difficult to know if I’m listening to TBell or Hinch. Passes are missed by the camera.

    I am a die hard so it washes over to an extent but every season the same old broadcast bs.

    I read somewhere that INDYCAR lost $20m in 2021 but cannot find anything on it today.

    Also wanted to give a mention to David Land who does an excellent job reporting on YouTube.

    Thanks to you both for your coverage this weekend. Always an enjoyable read.

  4. I agree about Grosjean. I really liked him last season but every race this season he drops down a bit on the likability scale for me.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Grosjean’s always been better at making friends off the track than on it. I generally don’t struggle with his aggressive nature (provided he gets penalized when it crosses the line) but I did struggle with his incident with Rahal yesterday because the second tap he delivered to the side of Rahal’s car was clearly intentional. Nothing really resulted from it, so there was understandably no penalty, but it is not an action I want to see from Grosjean or anyone again this season.

    Good to see O’Ward running strong at the end of the race again, his move on Veekay while both were on cold tires was excellent racing.

  6. Mark Wick Says:

    I watched the race on Peacock and they did promote a post race show several times, but the feed ended with the sign off on NBC and never resumed. I did discover it on YouTube last last night, so it happened but somebody forgot to put it up on Peacock. There was absolutely no reason for Grosjean’s second hit on Rahal. It is going to be necessary to make sure that he understands the consequences of touching another car on the IMS oval.

  7. Thanks George and Susan for your excellent coverage of the weekend. I’m happy you had a great time.

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