Saturday, June 11, 2011

Texas Review

My evening was planned out to the minute: Eat dinner, prepare eldest child for bed, watch start of Texas Twin 275s, get eldest child to bed, enjoy remainder of Twin 275s in order to watch two thrilling, down-to-the-wire, side-by-side finishes after a total of 550 kilometers of thrilling, side-by-side racing. Didn't quite work out that way. Eldest child resisted bedtime (slightly), the baby completely resisted bedtime, and the trademark Texas racing didn't materialize. The first two weren't surprising in the least, the third was.

Not that things were bad, just not what I expected.

The weirdness began with the start of the race. Polesitter Alex Tagliani got a good jump on the field on the way to the green flag-which didn't come out. What??? A bad start was actually waved off??? I was under the impression that this was not to happen... Oh well. Good for them. It did bring up a couple of questions. First, why is it that the otherwise very good Versus broadcast doesn't do a very good job of letting you know when the field is actually going to start the race? I'm always caught slightly by surprise when the green comes out. Second, did the first lap after the aborted start count? I imagine that could have thrown some fuel strategies off.

The rest of the race was pretty sedate. Dario got into the lead and dominated. The only caution came late when rookies Wade Cunningham (starting his first race) and Charlie Kimball (two weeks after getting an inordinate amount of attention for tripping up JR Hildebrand with his 150 mph pace) came together and wrecked. Leader Dario was among the first cars to the mess, which could have been dramatic, but he dismissed it as any sort of big deal during the post-race interview.

Post (double-file) restart got kind of crazy, but everyone behaved themselves. Though Danica got pretty angry with Jay Howard when he pushed her up to the front stretch wall. On the radio she promised to "chop" him if he tried anything in the second race. A question: would such a premeditated, threatened block be called as such if it actually happened? Or would officials find some rationalization? (Wow I'm being harsh tonight)

The closing laps were pretty good as Will Power tried desperately to get to the front to win his first oval race over Target teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. Dixon did everything he could to win the race, pulling alongside at the start/finish line, but he didn't appear to have Dario's speed.

The halftime show with the blind draw for the second race's starting lineup was entertaining when the drivers made a show of it (Hinchcliffe, Servia, and Kanaan, I'm applauding you). Dario was pretty unhappy when he saw his starting position, but more on that later.

The second race promised to be exciting: TK on the pole, with Cunningham alongside (in a backup car), Power behind in third, and Rahal in fourth. And the action was pretty good, even if TK couldn't hold on to the lead forever. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Paul Tracy looked good, but seemed to fade at the end. Race One surprises KV racing were either invisible (Viso and Sato) or faded behind the Galactic Empire entrants. Dario fought his way to the top 10, but ran out of time.

There was little doubt that Power would break through and get his first oval win. Dixon finished second again, followed by the rest of the Penske squad. The most dramatic moment of the race happened when Graham Rahal's fuel pump failed and he slowed as Power approached for his final pit stop. Power went on to win comfortably in an atypical Texas result. Post-race interviews were conspicuous for their ignorance of Rahal (the fuel pump info came from a Rahal Tweet later in the evening) and the Target boys' comments.

Certain bloggers and personalities will jump all over Dario for whining about a luck-based starting system determining the results of a big-time, professional, championship racing event. Thing is, he's right. Thanks to luck, his qualifying speed and winning race one result were nullified for the second race. Meanwhile, championship rival Will Power parlayed his third-place draw into a Race Two win as Dario was working through the field. The blind draw for the second race starting grid was the one aspect of the double-header format that didn't sit well with me. Dario suggested inverting the Race One starting order, but I'm not sure that's the best answer. It's an invitation for a Race One driver with a problem-or nothing to lose-to sandbag and get himself to the rear of the field. What would have even stopped someone (Hildebrand, say) from pulling off with two or three laps to go and parking in his pit stall? Instead, I have several ideas:

Have two qualifying segments: one for race one, the second for race two. The second could have been conducted, say, after the previous night's truck race.

Have a single qualifying segment of two or more laps. The first lap determines the starting order for the first race, the second lap determines the starting order for the second race.

Incorporate a pit stop into the qualifying lap (like what was done at the first Texas race in 1997). Total qualifying time sets first race grid, pit stop time sets second race grid.

(This isn't my idea, but I'm not sure where I heard it) Set second race grid by fastest first race lap.

Any of these ideas would set both grids by skill and should please the fans and the drivers.

Special comment: great job by Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon in the announcing booth. I hope, however, he's in a car for the rest of the season.

Next up is Milwaukee. Hope to see you there!


  1. Great thoughts. Can't disagree with any of that at all.

    I'd love to pose a couple questions to the folks upset with Dario's "whining" (that is not whining by the way, folks, it's just stating an opinion that you do not agree with) before and after the race: would you have been equally as gleeful if the shoes had been on the opposite feet (i.e. Dario starts 3rd and Power starts 28th)? No? Would you not have been screaming about how "the random draw was unfair and needs to be fixed for next year"? Then you folks tell me how a contrived piece of randomness like the grid draw is at all fair to anybody.

    Methinks Dario would have been pretty embarrassed to have won a race like that (his candid comments after winning a "boring" race at Richmond a couple years ago bears that out), and I think that if that had been anything other than Power's first oval win, Will would have been equally as subdued to have had a win basically gifted to him. I have to agree with you, Rick, and with most of the drivers, from what I've heard, that something different ought to be tried for next year. I like your ideas, but my favorite two are probably the one that I saw on Oilpressure this morning (invert via the points standings) and your idea to go off of fastest laps in Race 1. If that second one had been the determining factor, can anybody name who the Race 2 polesitter would have been? I can. His name's EJ Viso. You can look that up, and then tell me if you think that that might have made for an interesting second race. The fact that the draft plays into speed so much at Texas means that it'd still be somewhat of a lottery, but at least it's a lottery based on on-track events, not on a "Wheel of Fortune" gameshow.

    OK, that's enough for now. Great take, fella.

  2. OK, I just can not help myself. Here's the way the field would have stacked up had the 2nd race's grid been determined by fastest lap from Race 1:

    1 - Viso
    2 - Danica (can you imagine the halftime hype of that front row?)
    3 - Briscoe
    4 - Carpenter
    5 - Tags
    6 - TK
    7 - Marco
    8 - Taku
    9 - Power
    10 - Graham
    11 - RHR
    12 - Vitor
    13 - Tracy
    14 - Helio
    15 - Wilson
    16 - Dixon
    17 - Howard
    18 - Pink Lloyd
    19 - J.R.
    20 - Simona
    21 - Kimball
    22 - Dario
    23 - Hinch
    24 - Servia
    25 - Bia
    26 - Conway
    27 - Cunningham
    28 - Jakes
    29 - Hamilton
    30 - Saavedra

    There yo go. The guys who spent most of Race 1 are penalized somewhat because they spent most of that race up front (largely unable to be passed, from what we saw) and out of the draft, so therefore were somewhat slow. The guys who were effective back in the pack are rewarded for working the tow well. Who loses here? Anybody? Dario can't complain because the answer to him is "then drop back into the pack, get a tow to crack off a good lap or two, then try to go back to the front". That's a whole lot better answer than "try to pick a different random tire next year", isn't it?