The Frontstretch: Firestone 550 Breakdown: The Indy King of Texas by Toni Montgomery -- Monday June 10, 2013

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Firestone 550 Breakdown: The Indy King of Texas

Toni Montgomery · Monday June 10, 2013


In A Nutshell: IndyCar saw its seventh different winner in eight races when Helio Castroneves broke the drought for Penske Racing in 2013 by scoring the team’s first victory of the year at Texas Motor Speedway. Fitting as it was his fourth IndyCar win at the track, the most of any driver. It came down to handling. With tires designed to wear out and make the cars tough to drive in order to break up pack racing, it came down to who had the best car set up and by the midpoint of the race, it became apparent it was Castroneves. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second while Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter, and Marco Andretti round out the top five. They were also the only five cars to finish on the lead lap.

Helio Castroneves was all thumbs up after perfect handling late led to another win at Texas Motor Speedway.

Key Moment: Marco Andretti sprang out to the early lead with co-points leader Castroneves in pursuit, but as the race wore on, it because obvious that Castroneves was the one set up for the long haul. When he took over the lead on lap 97, that was pretty much it for everyone else. He led the rest of the way, sometimes by margins of up to 15 seconds.

Highlight Reel

  • Texas for the IndyCar drivers looked a little like Darlington for the NASCAR drivers. Tires were designed to wear out and it was obvious. Drivers who stopped early came back on the track and looked like superheros, passing previously faster cars at will. Those who stayed out longer spotted 15 mph on lap speed to fresh tires. Eventual winner Helio Castroneves still stretched his stops long and many wondered why when he gave up so much time on older tires. In the end, a number of competitors had to stop when he didn’t plus he still had 15 seconds on the second place car. While he gave some of that time up in the closing laps, it was enough. Strategy combined with a setup good enough to cope with the slippery old tires wins the day.
  • Helio Castroneves breaks the tie with Marco Andretti for the championship points lead and now holds it by 22 markers.
  • Scott Dixon and especially his Target Chip Ganassi teammates are probably glad to get out of Texas. Dixon got cut off on the original start and nearly ended up in the grass. Then, on his first stop, Dixon broke something on the car exiting the pits and got stranded out on track. He got a tow back to pit road and the team went to work on the car, only to have it literally blow up in their faces. Three crew members suffered burns from hot oil and were treated and released from the infield care center.
  • It’s not so surprising to see Ed Carpenter finish near the front on an oval but it might be more so considering some of the things that happened to him in Texas. Insert your bad glove joke here…if it fits….On one stop, a crewman making a front wing adjustment had his glove get hung up on the car, requiring a trip down pit road to remove it. Later in the race when leaders pitted under caution, Carpenter missed his call on the radio to come to the pits and ended up pitting a lap behind the other lead lap cars. Fortunately, given the low number of cars on the lead lap, neither incident ruined Carpenter’s night.
  • It’s amazing what having a good race can do for a guy. We have never seen James Jakes during the television broadcast as much as we did at Texas. Granted he had a solid run going, but it was probably the great result he got in Detroit that got ESPN to actually pay attention to him in Texas.
  • Your WTF moment for the weekend. ABC went to commercial break, without side by side coverage with 20 laps remaining in the race. Really? OK, so we didn’t miss anything but four laps but does anyone else think maybe that big commercial break could have been done at a better time and the one with 20 laps-and these are Indy cars folks so laps do not take very long-could have been a side by side one?
  • The science lesson in the pre-race coverage showing how the banking and the cars work and how the G forces affect the drivers was interesting and informative. One of the interesting parts was about the drivers’ necks and how much effort it takes just to hold their heads up with something like 55+ pounds of G force pushing on them. So how stiff is your neck the next day? And does anyone still wonder why this is NOT a doubleheader?

Notable Driver: Joseph Newgarden is in his second season in the IZOD IndyCar Series and drives for one of those small teams with Sarah Fisher Hartrman Racing but the young driver seems to be avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump. Newgarden and team had a solid performance in Texas, qualifying seventh, adjusting to changing handling characteristics on their car throughout the race, and bringing it home in a solid eighth place. It is the fourth top ten finish for the team so far in 2013 and Newgarden sits 15th in points. Consider that last year he didn’t finish in the top ten at all and was 23rd on the year.

Quotes and Tweets:

“(Engineer) Jonathan (Diuguid) did a hell of a job and Chevy did a great job because we were not only able to manage our tires and manage our fuel, but it was the setup. We did our homework and thank god it paid off. Texas is awesome. I love this place.” Helio Castroneves

“I think it was one of the main shafts from the gears that seemed to break coming out of the pits on that last stop for us. We found the problem and tried to fix it.” Scott Dixon

“We had a good result considering we got hosed a little bit on some of the yellows, which pushed us back a little. I think we had a top-5 car, but we were pretty good in the mix and I think to secure decent results is satisfying. We definitely want more but I think we learned a lot tonight.” Josef Newgarden

“Our strategy was such that we needed that yellow not come out. You know we had a good shot at winning it today though. That was just an interesting race. It was hard to even get by some of that traffic. I was searching everywhere for grip; I had so many catches out there that I thought were on the wall. It’s going to be tough to go to sleep tonight.” Ryan Hunter-Reay

“It’s always easier to be the Monday morning quarterback. I think it worked out for Ryan (Hunter-Reay) – he had a vibration and came in early. He went out, running some quick laps and he didn’t catch a yellow. We tried to do the same thing, we caught the yellow and the RC Cola car ended up a lap down. So, it’s unfortunate and to top it all off the worst guy in the championship fight against me won, but congrats to him.” Marco Andretti

“We had a couple of miscues in the pits, one with some debris on the front of the car, and I didn’t hear the guys call me in for the stop. Overall, those didn’t hurt us. It was hard out there tonight. I was racing more car more than the other drivers at times.” Ed Carpenter

What’s Next: The oval swing continues with a completely opposite track from Texas Motor Speedway and it’s high banks. Next week the IZOD IndyCar Series will visit the flat Milwaukee Mile for the Milwaukee IndyFest. This one is a Saturday afternoon show and can be seen on NBC Sports Network at 4:00 p.m.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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06/10/2013 10:37 AM

Boring race, just like Pocono.

06/10/2013 02:49 PM

looked like a nascar race…
i was hoping for an old school irl type race.
ah well

06/10/2013 04:36 PM

This race was a letdown based on the season thus far, oh well they can’t all be great right?

Looked to me like the cars could have used a little more downforce, but making the change mid-weekend would have been the wrong move. I think Walker sent the right message by leaving things as they were.

Thinking forward to California, it seemed to suit these cars better last year, when Texas was also a little strung out. I would hope IndyCar now has enough forethought to review what package they take there to ensure it’s a great race again.

06/10/2013 10:16 PM

Apparently INDYCAR agrees with some of your assessments. President of Competition Derrick Walker has apologized for the race on Saturday and has promised to look into changing things to make the racing better. I applaud Walker and the series for admitting they didn’t get something right and vowing to make it better. A lot of other people-Jeff Meyer-and other sports can learn from that example.