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 / NHRA Pace Laps)
Matt Stallknecht (Frontstretch IndyCar Writer / NASCAR’s Four Burning Questions)
Huston Ladner (Frontstretch IndyCar Writer / Happiness Is)
Huston: FYI for you both, the ratings for the GP: Overall, the national rating for the race was 0.9, which means about 1 million households tuned in to the broadcast, according to Nielsen.
Matt: That’s not too bad actually.
Toni: OK that’s actually decent.
Huston: Actually, for IndyCar, that’s fantastic.
Toni: I think so too.
Matt: I don’t mind kicking things off with that and then framing it around the bigger story, which was the overall success of the Indy GP.
Huston: Throw out your thoughts, Matt.
Matt: I think if you take a look at the weekend as a whole, you have to call it a success. The race itself was exciting, and the track lent itself to very competitive racing. Then you look at the TV ratings…a 0.9, while low, is still an encouraging number and a big improvement over recent non-Indy 500 races. Then you look at the crowd for the weekend, and I thought it actually beat expectations. So overall, a solid weekend for IndyCar with the Indy GP.
Huston: First, the TV numbers — the 0.9 is great when compared to the 0.6 and lower that they have been getting. I was slightly amazed to see the wide gap between the number of people who watch IndyCar vs. those who watch the truck races. Thought they might be more comparable, but not so. Hence, they’ve got to be thrilled with the amount of people tuning in. That being noted, and I realize they did it so that they could have practice for the 500 on Sunday…but out of habit I thought the race would be on Sunday.
Matt: Yeah, people really do forget just how huge NASCAR is. It’s apples to oranges really, even with the Trucks.
Huston: And it would have been perfect to do so as there was no NASCARcompetition.
Matt: The Saturday thing caught me off-guard for sure, maybe Saturday’s are better for Indy?
Huston: Hard to say.
Toni: I thought the same thing Huston, that the race was on Sunday. Wonder how many people meant to watch it and missed it making the same mistake?
Matt: That could easily be worth a tenth of a ratings point or two.
Huston: It’s kind of funny because that means we’ve been programmed to anticipate them being on a specific day.
Matt: I liked the race being on Saturday personally. On a normal weekend, your way better off competing against Nationwide than you are Cup.
Huston: I’ll grant you that one. I just thought that having on this particular Sunday might have been a boon withNASCAR taking the day off. But hey, good ratings, and as you mentioned, the crowd at the track looked good. The estimates I saw placed it between 30k and 40k, which is decent.
Matt: Yeah, I was anticipating 10k-20k max. There were easily 40k there which was great to see.
Huston: Not sure about easily, the Indy paper, thought it was closer to 30k, but ya know, they’re hyper-critical.
Toni: I heard they were thrilled with the at track attendance. It was more than they were anticipating.
Matt: I was genuinely shocked at the number of people I saw.
Toni: That’s what the track PR said.
Huston: I kind of thought they’d get a good turnout because a) the people in the area really support the track, and b) it was a new thing.
Toni: They deemed it a success and said it was a larger crowd than they expected.
Huston: I’d like to make the comment that the track looked beautiful.Though there’s no elevation changes to add that element, it looked comparable to the best road courses in America.
Matt: I’ve always loved the Indy Road Course. Very fast and sweeping track. With the right aero setup, it can be very competitive.
Toni: This is going to sound like a weird point, but you know, whether it’s because they are going the other way or what, it just felt like a whole different thing to me. I mean that in a good way.
Huston: It did Toni. Had a whole different character.
Toni: I mean it in the sense of feeling like a whole different event, even though it’s still at Indy, gives this race a separate identity.
Matt: I agree Toni. I thought it was a very refreshing change of pace that had a sufficiently different aura than that of the regular oval.
Toni: I think it made it feel like it’s own particular piece of the month of May. If that makes any sense. It gives it legitimacy going forward.
Huston: Interesting word choice there: legitimacy.
Toni: Well, really, there were some opinions that it felt like a throw away gimmick thing added to the schedule just to add a date and give them the number of races they want.
Huston: Even if it is there just to fill the schedule, isn’t that a good thing? IndyCar needs more races.
Toni: I don’t think that’s what we got. I think we got something that is a valuable addition to the schedule. It’s a legit event—it’s part of May at Indy but it didn’t come off like an afterthought.
Huston: Nah, feels like a good way to open the track.
Matt: The race had that “big-event” aura that is sorely missing from most races on the circuit. Might have just been me, but that kind of stuff counts. To me, its the perfect way to open the Month of May.
Toni: All that being said about the success of the event and the aura and the crowds, there was a massive hiccup that we need to talk about too. That of course being the start.
Huston: Standing starts?
Toni: First off, let me say that I like the standing starts. There are, as you might expect, people calling for them to quit doing them.
Huston: I’m with you. I’m for them.
Matt: I like them too. I do not like when they go awry however. F1 has a messy standing start every few weeks though and no one is calling for their elimination.
Toni: And I get the whole “We’re not Formula 1” argument.
Huston: They’re not F1, but they’re not NASCAR either.
Toni: I don’t think it’s about copying Formula 1. I think it’s about adding something interesting to the mix. Huston. I had the exact same thought.
Matt: The only thing I didn’t like about the standing start is that Indy MIGHT have been a bit too narrow for it. But you have to think that’s part of the challenge, right?
Toni: It is. I do have one question—do they have a wave off procedure? And if they don’t, they should.
Huston: My big problem with the standing starts is that the teams seem not to have placed an emphasis on getting them right.
Toni: I agree Huston. I do think if the teams worked on it a bit, they’d be less messy.
Matt: Exactly. Stalling on the start is borderline inexcusable.
Huston: How does that happen?
Matt: I really don’t know. And to the pole sitter, no less!
Huston: And poor Saavedra. Finally gets some spotlight and then…
Toni: Well the question is was it driver error—the teams need to work on that if it was—or mechanical? Although mechanical might still be something teams need to work on too.
Huston: To me, it doesn’t matter. This is something they should spend time practicing.
Matt: I have to think it was mechanical based on what they were showing during the race coverage. But to Huston’s point, the team’s need to put more effort into perfecting standing starts.
Huston: That does, however, segue into the race.
Toni: Agreed but I don’t think standing starts need to go. The race itself was good in my opinion. Once we got over that messiness at the start.
Huston: Well, until Power and Dixon started their on-track argument.
Toni: And we’ve now had four different winners to start the season.
Huston: Yeah, I had mentioned that. Parity can be a good thing.
Matt: How about Marco Andretti trying to do his best Earnhardt at Dega in 2000 impression on the first restart?
Huston: Ha, liked that one did ya?
Matt: He was trying so hard to make moves and he just couldn’t make anything happen. He more or less broke his car because of it.
Huston: But now you’re bringing up the other issue…what is with IndyCar and restarts?
Matt: The restarts in that race were utterly atrocious. I have no idea why IndyCar didn’t just force the drivers to keep a car length’s distance in front of them before the green flies. Simple fix. Restarts always flummox IndyCar and its absolutely impossible to understand.
Huston: That’s where I’m baffled too. Restarts have become such a problem for them. And in a humorous way…They start like F1 and restart like NASCAR and they seem to have problems with both.
Toni: Maybe they need to come up with something IndyCar to fix it then.
Huston: Have them run to their cars like the olden days? Just kidding!
Toni: Now that would be fun!
Huston: Hinch definitely needs to be mentioned. First, positive vibes need to be sent his way.
Toni: I agree. I am hoping he recovers quickly.
Huston: Second, what a freaky thing. Suddenly, car shrapnel shot all over the track but they never stated from which car it came. And a few minutes later, and Hinchtown’s deft maneuver to get off the track, he’s on a gurney.
Toni: No, that was just a weird thing. And then it took them forever to update us on Hinch too.
Huston: Yeah, that coverage was pretty lax.
Toni: He could not be having a more dismal start to his season though.
Huston: He’s the test car now.
Toni: If he even gets cleared to do the 500.
Huston: Oh, I meant for the rest of the season.
Toni: I know—which his season is pretty much shot—especially if he misses the double point Indy 500 coming up.
Huston: His season is shot anyway. He’s second to last of the full-timers.
Matt: You have to feel bad for Hinch. The guy’s career has been characterized by never being able to catch a break.
Toni: I also thought we should hit the 500-two points I had on that were the new qualifying format and also all the extra guys running and do any of them really have a prayer in this thing. This is our last round table discussion before the 500.
Matt: I really don’t think the qualifying change is bound to shake anything up in a meaningful way.
Toni: In my opinion, it was the same idea as the GP. Change things up because the old way was about used up. The old format just didn’t work when there weren’t 50 cars and bumping happening.
Huston: Yeah, this is a change made out of, dare I say, pragmatism.
Matt: Yeah I hear you there. The change was certainly worthwhile, I just don’t think it is going to move the needle, and that’s probably not the goal anyway.
Toni: I don’t think that was the goal,necessarily.
Huston: Yeah, I don’t see if having much of an impact.
Toni: I think it was just bringing it more inline with the usual qualifying format in some ways and also the old drawn out way was just unnecessary.
Huston: Yeah, bump day had died. Time to move forward.
Toni: As Huston pointed out last week we have 23 or so regular cars. The rest are extra guys scraped together. Not to sound mean but guys who have been out of a car and managed to put one together for just this race.
Toni: Guys from other places like Kurt Busch, who’s never raced one, and Jacques Villeneuve who hasn’t been in one since 1990 whatever.
Matt: The draft at Indy is something of an equalizer. If a guy comes in, gets a good feel for the track, and works the draft right…you never know what cold happen.
Huston: Those filling out the field are not going to be the favorites.
Toni: But here’s the question—they aren’t the favorites, for sure, but do any of them have a chance you think?
Huston: Like your optimism Matt, but still, quite unlikely.
Toni: Could one of them pull an upset?
Huston: Damn, I’d love to say anything’s possible, but the realist in me says: Nope.
Matt: I think it’s entirely possible.
Huston: And now Jacques is going to win.
Toni: Jacques scares me. I hope he remembers these aren’t like NASCAR….
Huston: He should scare you, it’s quite possible he’s nuts, or French-Canadian, pretty much the same thing.
Matt: Jacques is a dart without feathers.
Huston: That phrase is trademarked and not to be used without the permission of Tony Stewart Inc.
Toni: I will give Kurt Busch credit, he’s not doing this half-assed. He’s turned up to put in laps every time he can.
Huston: Yeah, he’s all in. It helps that he’s pretty much made the Chase in Cup and can change his focus.
Matt: Allmendinger nearly won the thing last year, I think Kurt could be similarly competitive.
Toni: That’s not to say I think he can win though. Ultimately, he’s still never raced one of these. And it’s not like practice laps to actually go out there and run the 500. But then hey, you never know. Remember Dinger had a Champ car career beforeNASCAR. He’d at least done something sort of similar.
Huston: And there ya go, he’s still going to draw in some eyes to watch whatever he does.
Toni: Well whether I think he can win or not, I admit I’m curious. I want to see how he does.
Huston: Busch is a proverbial wheelman.
Toni: Exactly. Like him or not Busch can wheel a racecar.