Belle Isle Preview

It’s always sad to close out the Month of May, but before we look ahead to the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear Corporation – I do feel the need to touch on something left over from last weekend.

I am a big fan of Jimmie Johnson and I appreciate the difficulty of what he is trying to do. I think that many of the Jimmie haters out there think that driving an Indy car is about like the go-karts you’ll drive at Sarah Fisher’s Speedway Indoor Karting. It’s not. After a few laps, I can be competitive in one of those go-karts. Let’s just all agree that driving an Indy car is just a little tougher…No, it’s a lot tougher.

Having said all of that, Jimmie Johnson did not deserve the 2022 Rookie of the Year (ROTY) Award, in my opinion. Like many, I think it should have gone to David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing. Yes Johnson made the Fast Twelve, but he made a bobble (and a great save) that blew his average. He started twelfth, in a Chip Ganassi Car – the best cars at the Speedway this May.

Malukas started thirteenth in a car prepared by a much smaller team – and by smaller, I mean budget. Yes, Malukas dropped three spots in finishing sixteenth. But at least he finished. Johnson dropped like a stone at the start and was running nineteenth by the Lap 50 mark. He crashed as a mistake that he alone made and finished twenty-eighth. When you are not competitive at all throughout the day, then you crash out when it is solely your fault – how is that the best performance of the month by a rookie?

I fully agree that you don’t base ROTY on finishing position. It is a combination of how you did through the month as well as Race Day. Malukas was fast every practice day, but so was Johnson. Malukas crashed on Carb Day, but only because Santino Ferrucci stuffed him into the wall. I can’t imagine the amount of guts it took for Malukas to throw an untested rebuilt car into Turn One at the start on Sunday – yet, he did it.

I don’t have a vote for ROTY, but some of my former fellow bloggers did before retiring their keyboard. I’m not sure what determines who votes and who doesn’t. I didn’t mind when Fernando Alonso won it over Ed Jones in 2017. I felt like Alonso would have been right there at the end, had his Honda mount not given up on him on Lap 179. He performed better all month than Jones. Ultimately, that was the highpoint in Jones’s career.

But this year, the voters got lazy. They went with the name they knew versus the twenty year-old, they had likely never heard of before this month – because they weren’t paying attention to IndyCar until a few weeks ago.

So, it will be Jimmie Johnson’s name etched into the record books. But something tells me that David Malukas will have plenty of opportunities to right this wrong. He’ll do it on the track.

Now, on to Belle Isle. It is no secret that I have never been a fan of Belle Isle, going back to the first time they ever raced there in 1992. Defenders of the Island tell me I have no right to disparage a track I haven’t been to. People that I trust tell me it’s a lot better in person. That may be, but more than 90% of us consume most races on television and not in person – and on television, Belle Isle makes for some not-so-great programming.

I especially don’t care for Belle Isle’s place on the schedule – immediately following the Indianapolis 500. If any casual fan loved the 500, and is tempted to check out the next race – chances are they won’t finish the broadcast and they sure won’t check out the next race at Road America.

But for those tired of me taking shots at a track that you apparently love, take solace in the fact that this will be the final year for IndyCar to race at Belle Isle. Therefore, logic would have it that this would be my last time to bash Belle Isle. OK, I can’t promise that. Sometimes I just can’t pass up a chance to get a snarky dig in.

As far as this weekend’s race goes the points race was turned upside-down after the Indianapolis 500, what with double-points and all. Marcus Ericsson is your new points leader, while Pato O’ Ward is second and only thirteen points behind. Alex Palou is reaping the benefits of staying at it all day at Indianapolis, even thought he had been taken out of contention for the win. By finishing ninth with doiuble-points and the eleven points he got fow qualifying second, Palou is only one point behind O’Ward.

The one who was cursed by double-points was Will Power. He started the day in the points lead, but by finishing fifteenth – he dropped to fourth in the standings. Still he is only twenty-four points behind Ericsson. The big drop-off comes in fifth place, where Josef Newgarden is a full fifty-six points behind Ericsson. Scott Dixon is sixty points back after his self-inflicted gaffe last Sunday.

There is some good news for those now chasing Ericsson in the points. Historically, the winner of the Indianapolis 500 does not fare too well in the next race. The last driver to win the next race after winning the Indianapolis 500 was Juan Montoya in 2000, and that was a completely different situation with him being a CART driver. Dario Franchitti came closest, finishing second at Milwaukee in 2007.

But keep in mind, Ericsson scored his first career victory at Belle Isle in Race One last year. For the record, Pato O’ Ward won in Race Two. There is no double-header this year, so they both cannot repeat.

Please make a note that Sunday’s race will be carried by USA Network. I don’t know where USA is on my cable box, but I know it’s there and I’ll find it. I’m pretty confident it’s on yours too. All other broadcasts will be carried by Peacock. The first practice for the NTT IndyCar Series will take place at 3:30 pm EDT on Friday. Practice Two commences at 8:30 am EDT on Saturday. Qualifying will get underway at 12:35 pm EDT Saturday. On Sunday, there is a morning warm-up at 10:15 am EDT, then the race gets underway on USA at 3:00 pm EDT.

I predict the past week has been too much of a distraction on Ericsson and he will struggle on Sunday. But I do think that Pato O’Ward will land in Belle Isle’s Victory Lane and will be the last driver to jump in the fountain. We’ll see.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Belle Isle Preview”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Here is the top 10 in points without double points or qualifying points, (and the change in positions from their current double points standings), for kicks and grins:

    Rank – Driver – Points – Change
    1 – Will Power – 185 – (-3)
    2 – Alex Palou – 179 – (-1)
    3 – Marcus Ericsson – 169 – (+2)
    4 – Patricio O’Ward – 167 – (+2)
    5 – Josef Newgarden – 157 – (0)
    6 – Scott McLaughlin – 157 – (-1)
    7 – Scott Dixon – 146 – (+1)
    8 – Colton Herta – 137 – (-2)
    9 – Simon Pagenaud – 133 (+1)
    10 – Rinus VeeKay – 119 – (-3)

    Felix Rosenqvist falls from 9th to 12 when double points are removed, with he and Veekay being the only drivers to move in or out of the top 10.

  2. Mark Wick Says:

    George, from what I have read everyone agrees with your and me that David Malukas was the true ROY this year.

    I know a lot of factors are in play as NBC decides where to show INDYCAR races. Detroit being the only choice to put on USA probably indicated they agree with you about this circuit.

    The Detroit race will be on Peacock also.

  3. Yannick Says:

    I’m glad that you agree that David Malukas is the real deal.

    After having taken a look at a map of the new downtown circuit that is going to replace Belle Isle from next year on, I get the feeling we might miss Belle Isle. But we’ll see.

    And yes, I miss Milwaukee just like you do.

    Here’s wishing everybody a good and safe race event at Belle Isle.

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