The Frontstretch: No Bull: Bad Calls Can Quickly Cost You Credibility by Nick Bromberg -- Tuesday July 27, 2010

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No Bull: Bad Calls Can Quickly Cost You Credibility

Nick Bromberg · Tuesday July 27, 2010


The IndyCar Series is under fire this week for a rules controversy that left Helio Castroneves fuming and Scott Dixon basking in the glory of a win where he never led a single lap on the racetrack.

While NASCAR raced at open-wheel’s hallowed ground on Sunday, IndyCar stole the spotlight hours after the checkered flag flew at Indianapolis. As Helio Castroneves led the field to the green flag and a restart on lap 92 of the 95-lap Honda Edmonton Indy, he stayed to the inside portion of the frontstretch as the field headed to turn one.

Castroneves kept his line straight until they got to the first turn, where he arced the car out to get a better angle; but by that time, his teammate Will Power was already alongside of him, pulling up on the outside line. It didn’t look like a blatant block to those watching, as it seemed Castroneves simply took away the preferred inside line on the racetrack.

But IndyCar officials held a different view. Series COO Brian Barnhart ruled that Castroneves had, in fact, blocked Power and would need to serve a drive through penalty. Castroneves didn’t oblige, then led the field to the checkered flag, ala Robby Gordon in Montreal just three years ago. However, like Gordon, he wasn’t scored the winner as a result.

If you follow motorsports, by now you’ve probably already seen the replay of Castroneves’ freakout that happened afterwards. The veteran contended that he wasn’t blocking, and yes, he didn’t make an attempt to cut Power off at any point. When Power moved to Castroneves’ outside, he didn’t try to force him any higher.

However, in the pre-race drivers’ meeting, Barnhart said that the leader, or any car not attempting to overtake, could not use the inside line on a straightaway. That, he said, would be perceived as blocking. And that is exactly what Castroneves did.

On the one hand, Barnhart should be applauded for enforcing the rule that he explicitly stated in the drivers’ meeting. Other drivers — even Power himself — said that Castroneves was blocking, much to the befuddlement of those covering and watching the race. That’s because at that point, no one even knew about Barnhart’s pre-race decree. Hard to make a judgment call based on information you don’t even have…

On the other hand, it’s a terrible decision. Yes, blocking occurs in the IndyCar Series. Heck, it occurs in most all forms of motorsports. But a driver can negate a block with the chrome horn fairly easily in a stock car. In an open-wheel situation, it’s much harder to escape without any damage occurring to either side.

So to completely take away a portion of the racetrack is absurd, especially when blocking isn’t something that’s clearly definable. It’s a judgment call, and to the untrained eye, Danica Patrick’s block of Tony Kanaan down the backstretch at Texas (among other ones that have been very noticeable in 2010) was much more blatant. That block was unpenalized, and helped lead to a second-place finish for Patrick.

There’s a difference between blocking and driving defensively, and it looked like Castroneves was driving defensively. He took away Power’s preferred line getting into the corner, a move we see in racing all the time. It wasn’t an abrupt decision, either, as he clearly announced his intentions a long way before entering turn 1.

So what now? The IndyCar Series doesn’t need to go so far as to say “have at it, boys (and girls)!,” but for a group of officials that won’t yank Milka Duno’s license, this was an unnecessary, albeit foreshadowed, step.

Let the drivers race for the win, and if someone gets cut off, sure, then investigate the potential for a block. Simply driving on the inside half of the straightaway should not be deemed blocking, though. The sport could learn a thing or two from getting a little too overprotective; does NASCAR, bumpdrafting, and Talladega ring a bell?

But hey, at least IndyCar is receiving a ton of attention for this wild ending. And, it could always be worse. Roger Penske could have pulled a Ferrari and ordered Castroneves to pull over for Power…

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
Five Points to Ponder: Censorship Gone Wild, Carl & Kyle Sitting In A Tree, More
Brian and Bruton Tell Us … What, Exactly?
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In Sprint Cup: Indy-Pocono Edition
Talking NASCAR TV: Did ESPN Cut The Mustard In Its Cup Debut?

Contact Nick Bromberg

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots


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07/27/2010 09:49 AM

Who cares.

07/27/2010 04:03 PM

Helio, Powers, and Penske all got screwed Sunday. It hurts the credibility of any sport when a bogus call or penalty is issued whether it is too harsh or too light.

What was done at the Indy Car race is not that different then a driver being fined more for speaking out about sanctioning body phantom cautions then another being fined less for wrecking someone intentionally.

Everyone wonders why these 2 major forms of auto racing are on the decline here, incompetence of the sanctioning bodies is the #1 cause.

07/27/2010 08:13 PM

For a guy who is a Penske homer who never calls anything against them, this was an interesting time for a call. According to their rules spoke about in the pre-race driver’s meeting, Helio’s move was illegal.

Is it a correct call, no. Is Barnhardt a douchebag, absolutely. What kind of competition director allows a moving chicane (Milk&Dougnuts)to drive around every week in cars that go over 220 miles an hour shows a general lack of inteligence. He is as inconsistent with calls as NASCAR is. The race sucked anyway and that was the final act.

07/28/2010 12:29 PM

Regardless of whether I agree or disagree with the ruling, it was refereshing to see the sanctioning body treating everyone the same and no preferential treatment was given to their stars based on the money that they bring in.

If Barnhardt issued that statement in the drivers meeting, and Helio still chose to do it, why is Barnhardt in the wrong? He had no choice at that point, but to follow through with the penalty. Be upset at the rule if you want, but you can’t fault him for following through on it especially if it was specifically mentioned in the drivers meeting before the race.

So maybe its Helio’s fault for either not listening or thinking he could get away with it. Either way, if they were warned beforehand, then Indy Car made the right call.

07/28/2010 09:12 PM

I agree with a previous commentor. Who cares.

07/29/2010 07:56 AM

I was going to form an opinion on this, but then I remembered it’s Indy cars, and only about ten people watch it anyway. I have to agree with the other two, who cares.