The Frontstretch: IndyCar Round Table: Rivalry, Crazy Races, And Interesting Podiums by Toni Montgomery, Huston Ladner and Matt Stallknecht -- Wednesday September 4, 2013

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IndyCar Round Table: Rivalry, Crazy Races, And Interesting Podiums

Toni Montgomery, Huston Ladner and Matt Stallknecht · Wednesday September 4, 2013


Welcome to the IndyCar Round Table! Several times throughout the season, your favorite writers will get together to discuss the latest IndyCar news, rumors and so much more!

This Week’s Participants:
Toni Montgomery (Frontstretch IndyCar Editor)
Matt Stallknecht (Frontstretch IndyCar Writer / Four Burning Questions)
Huston Ladner (Frontstretch IndyCar Writer / Happiness Is)

Topic 1: Let’s go back for a minute to Sonoma and discuss the pit road incident between Scott Dixon, Will Power’s crew, and the call made by INDYCAR. Thoughts?

Toni: I expressed most of my thoughts in my column last Wednesday, but I do want to add that I find it disappointing that I have yet to hear Scott Dixon express any apology for hitting anyone or relief that no one was hurt. Regardless of the circumstances, we had car versus human. People got knocked over. And all he’s worried about was whether they were trying to sabotage his run in the race and/or the championship.
Huston: Well, I’m not so sure that much more needs be discussed…I’m on INDYCAR’s side on this one. They made the right call and they could have used any number of infractions. What I liked is that they came out and were aggressive in establishing rules for pit road going forward.
Toni: It’s crystal clear in the rule book. And he could have been parked. The penalty he got was in line with other infractions.
Matt: I was told by a few people that the incident made national news. Not exactly the kind of press this sport needs, and that pretty much sums up my thoughts on it. Whether or not INDYCAR made the right call is up for debate, but the sheer fact that yet another negative story is being spun around the sport is just disappointing.
Huston: Will agree, Dixon has been less than contrite.
Toni: That’s a bit putting the game before the human element, don’t you think?
Matt: I wasn’t real impressed with how Dixon handled things either. Human lives are at stake on pit road. I’ve always lauded him as a classy guy, but his actions (and lack thereof?) have been rather questionable the last few weeks.
Toni: It takes a bit of the wind out of any complaint Dixon (or Franchitti who chimed in as well) may have over the officiating that Castroneves also hit someone in the pits this weekend and he drew the same penalty.
Matt: I have to say that I WAS impressed that INDYCAR handled this issue quickly and efficiently. Again, when you are dealing with human lives, you need to act fast and with an iron fist.
Toni: I would like to further point out that the very first thing Castroneves did on TV after the race was apologize for the contact and express relief that the person he hit was OK. Granted it was his own team member but that should not make a difference.
Huston: One aspect that I think has been ignored, and is sort of absurd, is that a guy would willfully put himself in a position to get, potentially, seriously injured just to slow down a rival.
Toni: No Huston, I agree—I seriously don’t think that anyone would jump in front of a speeding race car just to slow down a rival.
Matt: Certainly wouldn’t be something a rational person would choose to do.
Toni: Bottom line is INDYCAR should be congratulated for taking a stance and sticking with it. I agree,
Matt. I was impressed too.

What has our IndyCar staff so pumped about the Baltimore podium?

Huston: Yeah, they acted rather swiftly and didn’t alter their stance. And then backed it up by making improvements on pit road. Seems like good moves all around — almost strange.
Matt: I absolutely agree. We can all debate whether or not the call was right or fair or whatever, but this was a sensitive issue and INDYCAR handled their business like professionals.
Toni: Actually I don’t think any of us debated the call-I think we all agreed on it.
Matt: I was speaking more generally.

Topic 2: Fast forward to this week and once again Scott Dixon and Will Power end up at odds with championship implications. Your take on this week’s incident?

Huston: Strange one all around. At first it seemed that Power made a conscious move to mess with Dixon, but after watching the replays and hearing his first comments, it seems that Power had a disastrous driver error moment. One that was unintentional.
Toni: First off I do not think Will Power took out Scott Dixon on purpose. Power had a shot to win that race and you can bet he wanted to do just that. He was not going to throw that away to help his teammate. I think he made a poor judgment call to pull out and try to pass on the inside without looking first. But I don’t think he did it on purpose. I think this is one of those deals you get sometimes where two guys get into it and then seem to keep having issues and can’t get away from each other.
Matt: Some INDYCAR purists might not agree with this, but the Baltimore incidents (totally excluding what happened in Sonoma) could (wait for it) be good for the sport. Yeah, I know the purists won’t like hearing it, thinking that a NASCAR style rivalry is too “WWE” for INDYCAR, but the fact is that it is creating a buzz.
Toni: No I agree with you, Matt. I think it’s great. It puts some spice into the end of the season. And I don’t find that too WWE. I think it’s good. If your championship race is a bit of a snoozer, who is going to want to tune in?
Matt: As for the incident itself, the practice crash was very strange. Really only Will Power and the man upstairs know what Will’s real intentions were on Saturday. I personally thought it looked intentional but it was certainly debatable.
Huston: The funny thing is that Power already has a long-standing rivalry with Franchitti—those two couldn’t agree on the color of the sky — but adding his teammate makes it interesting. That being stated, I just don’t think that these two have the same kind of demeanor/animosity.
Matt: The race incident was just that: a racing incident. It created a nice buzz and I personally am enjoying what appears to be a truly budding rivalry.
Toni: I don’t know Huston. Scott Dixon has certainly been showing more animation and personality than we’re used to seeing because Power has been a thorn in his side.
Huston: I think the disappointing thing, all around, is that two stout cars crashed out, and it’s always a bummer when races don’t have the best cars in them.
Matt: If nothing else, the past two weeks have shown that Power seems to have rediscovered his fire and intensity. Me thinks Mr. Power will be back in the championship hunt next year.
Toni: True. He’d been invisible for the most part until now.
Matt: He’s always had a bit of a flair for the dramatic. His double-bird gesture will forever live in sports infamy.
Toni: Honestly? I find it funny. There’s something about Will. He’s so intense sometimes it always sounds like he’s mad. I mean just in simple things like the driver intros on the radio broadcast. He sounds mad!
Power gained a ton of fans for that double bird which I think is hysterical.
Huston: We all concur on that point. Not only does Power look like he’s coming back around, but Penske is the lone Chevy company that looks like they’re making strides.
Matt: Interesting side note, since you mentioned Chevy: Chevy apparently threw a ton of money at Chip Ganassi in hopes that he brings his INDYCAR team over to Chevy in 2014 to align with his NASCAR team.
Toni: I don’t see Honda letting him go easily and they have deep pockets too. Besides, nothing says they have to align. Penske doesn’t. He can’t, but still, he doesn’t.
Matt: Rivalries are always good for the sport. I hope they keep bickering.
Huston: If those two make contact again they’ll be throwing blows on pit road — and that would be wild.
Toni: But not necessarily bad…
Matt: Oh how I’d love to see that.

Topic 3: The Grand Prix of Baltimore was a wild event that came down mostly to survival. Thoughts on this circuit and this type of race?

Huston: The track is interesting. The city seems to support the race. But when 9 laps of green flag racing is the most after lap 40 then there’s an issue. Roughly one-third of the race happened under caution — which means that it was hardly a race.
Toni: But when they were running under green there it was pretty exciting I thought.
Matt: This circuit has grown on me immensely. I’m still pretty lukewarm on street racing as a whole but the Baltimore circuit is unique, has a lot of character, and is largely good for the sport. That being said, the race was incredibly sloppy, but I’m not sure that was entirely the circuit’s fault.
Toni: But I have to say that track looks brutal! The bumps and the turns! It looks like a beast to drive.
Matt: It’s like the Auto Club or Atlanta of street circuits. My lord is it bumpy!
Huston: Yeah, that surface is tough. Gotta imagine that it’s vicious on both the drivers and the cars.
Toni: Even with the chicane cars were still getting airborne over those tracks too. Or in that segment at least, even if it wasn’t because of the tracks but just the bumps.
Matt: Part of me likes the bumps for the character they give the track. Another part of me feels a repave of some sort could make the track much safer.
Huston: I think, and this goes for NASCAR as well, that the double-file restart is something that needs to be re-examined. Not sure it is accomplishing the goal of making for good racing.
Toni: I think the double file restart was largely responsible for the messiness. I don’t think it works well on street courses at least. It’s asking for trouble when you line them up in a pile and they have to squeeze through a narrow turn just up ahead. How many times did Charlie Kimball have to drive around the same pile up?
Matt: I agree Huston. The restarts are absolutely terrible on some of these street circuits. There is limited room to lineup double-file and it leads to sloppy and disjointed restarts.
Huston: Yeah, I’m frequently baffled by how the drivers are not lined up yet they let the green flag wave.
Toni: Well what happens is they restart two wide, or sort of, but then people start making moves and suddenly they are three wide and then they have a narrow turn one right on top of them. And everyone runs into everyone else because they were all in a big knot when they were trying to pile in there.
Matt: Oftentimes half the field isn’t even lined up before they go green, it’s pretty ridiculous. Clean up the restarts. That’s the big one that sticks out to me. The track is tricky but that is not an excuse for some of Sunday’s carnage.
Huston: The track is decent and makes for compelling racing, when they actually race, but they need to look at something. Having the field continually crash on restarts is not racing.

Topic 4: Is Simon Pagenaud really an underdog? He’s third in the points. Thoughts on seeing drivers like him, Newgarden, and Bourdais up front.

Toni: He’s an underdog in the sense that Schmidt’s team is not the juggernaut that Penske or Ganassi or Andretti is, but as a driver, no. I don’t know how you could call the third place driver this late in the season an underdog.
Matt: Not at all. Pagenaud is a European-trained road racing ace who is every bit as talented as some of the best in the sport. The road/street heavy schedule favors him immensely. Not a shock that he is doing well at all. He’s a road racing expert driving in a road racing centric series for a respectable team.
Toni: IndyCar is a little unique I think just from the caliber of drivers who are out there in the smallest of underfunded teams. Bourdais, Justin Wilson, Pagenaud…
Huston: Agreed. For drivers like him, Stefan Wilson, Sebastien Bourdais, they’ve got a chance any time they’re on a street/road course. That being noted, having the resources that the Big 3 have, always helps.
Matt: As for Newgarden, it was only a matter of time before he broke out. The kid is incredibly talented, but he got thrown into the big leagues way too early, a la Joey Logano in NASCAR. We are just starting to see what Newgarden can do in this sport.
Toni: Agreed. On the front of resources, if the Penske/Ganassi/Andretti boys don’t all have troubles, are those guys still up front? I mean this week in particular.
Huston: Sure looked good for Power and Dixon until their incident.
Matt: With all of the cost controlling and the spec nature of the DW12, the gap between the big teams and the small teams is not as big as you think. Plus, road/street courses are not as reliant on super-tuned aero advantages that only the Big 3 have access too. So to see underdogs up front more is not shocking to me.
Huston: True, but if you notice, most of the top 6 qualifiers came from well funded teams.
Matt: Its easier for a driver to overcome their equipment on a super bumpy, stop/start street circuit like Baltimore than a flowing natural terrain road course or an oval.
Toni: I for one loved the look of the podium on Sunday.
Huston: The podium was great. Any time the lesser-known teams can take high positions, it’s great
Toni: See that’s kind of the thing about it though. We’ve had some interesting podium results on the street/road courses this year. Some of the smaller teams have stepped up. Whether it’s because the big teams had troubles or not is debatable. But if you look at the championship, it’s still all about the Big Three. Except for Pagenaud. He’s the little guy on the little team making an impact there.
Huston: And Pagenaud is only one point ahead of Marco.
Matt: I think that’s just a testament to how good Pagenaud really is. If the immortal David Smith were here to analyze each driver’s Performance in Equal Equipment Ratings, Pagenaud’s PEER would be through the roof this season. Underdogs can thrive under the vast array of conditions that make up INDYCAR in 2013. Spec car + lots of street courses = fertile ground for underdogs.
Huston: Any track that can act as an equalizer is good for racing. Seeing the “underdogs” take podium spots is good for everyone — except for those big guys.
Matt: That would validate my point about draft tracks being good for racing then in NASCAR and INDYCAR oval racing! That’s a story for another day though.

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Chris in TX
09/04/2013 01:41 PM

wow, i am really surprised that none of you think that Dixon totally got the shaft on that. The way the tire carrier was doing that, it sure looked like an attempt at gamesmanship to me. Little difference there between what happened, and someone rolling a tire into dixon’s car, and him being penalized for it.

09/05/2013 07:16 AM

Great discussion, panel! I too, have been disturbed by Dixon’s lack on contrition about the tire carrier. I just don’t believe any pit “strategy” involves using team personnel as blockades!