NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Open Wheel Wednesday: Dissecting the Texas Mess & Road America

1) IndyCar postponed the conclusion of the Texas race until Aug 27 where the race will resume on lap 71 as things were. Did they make the right decision? What should they have done?

Aaron Bearden (IndyCar/NASCAR): I’m not certain of the date, but there wasn’t too much that INDYCAR officials could do given the circumstances. The weather wasn’t going to allow for a race that day, and series drivers Scott Dixon, Mikhail Aleshin and Sebastien Bourdais needed to get to LeMans for scrutineering for this weekend’s 24 Hours of – you guessed it – LeMans. The decision to resume the race on lap 71 might not be the most popular among series fans, Conor Daly or Josef Newgarden, but you can’t just act like the opening 70 laps didn’t happen. It was just a brutal set of circumstances for IndyCar and Texas Motor Speedway.

Toni Montgomery (NHRA/IndyCar): This was just a messy situation. IndyCar can’t control the weather or the weepers on the track and in this case, it’s not one of those deals where “They should know better than to race in (fill in location here) in (fill in season of the year here).” They have this race every year at this same time and have not run into this as far as I recall, at least not to this extent.

(Photo: Chris Jones)
Josef Newgarden before the race at Texas (Photo: Chris Jones)

Honestly, they didn’t have to work with the drivers going to LeMans. They could have been uncooperative about it and just forged ahead, but the forecast still wasn’t great for Monday, and that would have been kind of a jerk move on their part, so I think this was a good call. It’s not without precedent either in IndyCar or other series. It’s not great for people who traveled to the race maybe, but how many do you really think there were who did that? I don’t think the Texas IndyCar race is quite like the 500 or pretty much most NASCAR races where people drive 8 hours or fly in from somewhere for it.

As for picking up where they left off, with that many laps in the books, I think that’s pretty much what the rules of the game dictate, isn’t it?

Huston Ladner (F1/IndyCar): This situation is a weird one. While the rules may state that they have to begin where they left off, and that they’re supposed to run the schedule event, these decisions seem to come at the expense of the fans. Sure some may not have to drive 500 miles to the race but if you bought a ticket and already endured the two days it took to run 71 laps, are you really going to be willing to spend the time and money now to watch just two-thirds of a race. Seems that IndyCar might have been wise to script a whole new deal – that is, shorten the race, run it to that conclusion and then run a second race, same day, of the same shortened distance. Just an idea.

2) Josef Newgarden suffered a broken clavicle and hand in a wreck with Conor Daly. Do they have any reason to return to Texas? Should they be permitted to race?

Aaron: It depends on how things play out between now and then. They’ll certainly have sponsors and fans to attend the race for, and in my opinion should be allowed to rejoin the race however many laps down they were when it was halted. Again, this is a difficult set of circumstances for the IndyCar Series.

Toni: Now that’s an interesting one. Short answer, no. We’re picking up where we left off, right? It seems to me that anyone who was out–even beyond those two drivers/teams–is done. It’s a little weird really because no one will be just hopping back in the same car (well, it may ACTUALLY be the same car, but you know what I mean) in the same condition/configuration that they just got out of it and driving on as they would have after a normal delay. Obviously teams will have taken the tires off, will have used the car in other races perhaps, and so they are more or less starting fresh, but that’s entirely different from getting a “do over” for a team that was wrecked and out for the day. Now had it been a case where the driver was hurt but the car fine, then I would say the team/car goes on, but I’d still have to question whether that’s with the regular driver or another. I think I’d still say no.

Huston: Toni, I think you hit upon some of the key points, and the big one to me is that it’s not like the teams left their cars in the Texas garage. The series implemented no sense of parc ferme, which kind of makes it seem like Newgarden and Daly should have the option. Now, that being said, if they switched to my two races/same day concept, keep them out but have them eligible for the second race.

Editor’s Note: Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden will be allowed to rejoin the race in Aug. but will be multiple laps down.

RoadAmericaLoop_White
IndyCar returns to Road America in two weeks…will it be what fans hope for? (credit: Road America)

3) In two weeks the series will be heading to Road America for the first time in ages. Are you looking forward to it? Will it be as well attended as hoped? Will the track provide solid racing or will the field get strung too strung out?

Aaron: Road America is one of the most legendary racing facilities in America, and holds a prominent place in the history of Indy car racing. There are fears that the race might not live up to expectation in terms of either the racing product or the attendance, but ultimately just returning to Elkhart Lake is a big deal for the series. Still, let’s hope the worries are for naught and the series puts on a great show in front of a large crowd. They could use a good story after that Texas letdown.

Toni: I do look forward to Road America because it just belongs on the schedule. I think it’s a great track. I hope it’s well attended but wishing and hoping on IndyCar attendance sadly breaks my heart so often that, well, I just don’t hold my breath. It seems like so many times when people vocalize their desire for the series to race somewhere, they don’t show up to actually support it. Milwaukee. Pocono. As for the field getting strung out, yeah, it’s a huge track so that’s absolutely a likely possibility, but that’s really a part of the nature of the beast on road courses. I don’t think solid racing and strung out field are necessarily mutually exclusive concepts.

Huston: I agree with the assessment that this track is one that IndyCar needs to visit – even if it’s just out of curiosity at this point. As Toni stated, fans often clamor for something and don’t show their support and there must certainly be a fear of that kind of thing again occurring, ahem, cough cough Pocono. The biggest problem, however, might be the track. It’s enormous at just over four miles. So yeah, should some teams hit the mark there could be enormous gaps in action and that might be a bit of a disappointment. The negatives being noted…fingers crossed for this one.

4) General thoughts on the season to date?

Aaron: It’s been a good season overall if you look past Texas. Simon Pagenaud has emerged as a bonafide star after years of showing potential. The series put on one of its biggest races ever in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, and young stars like Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly have shined at times, offering a glimpse at some much needed new blood in the series. The Texas wreck between Daly and Josef Newgarden was frightening, the rainout was disappointing and the loss of the Boston race was downright embarrassing, but the series will (hopefully) overcome it with a return to Elkhart Lake. There are a lot of positives to look at this season, but there’s still a long way to go. Baby steps.

Toni: I think a lot of the racing has been very good, but I think the overall outcomes–with Team Penske dominating to such a degree, particularly Simon Pagenaud, might be leaving an impression that says otherwise. The Indy 500 has definitely been a shining achievement for the series that came off as well as anyone could have ever dreamed–it lived up to the hype in other words–and in this case, I think given the specialness of this particular 500, it’s OK this time if it dwarfs the rest of the season, which it of course will. Always the problem–getting folks to realize there’s a “rest of the season” beyond the 500. And there is always some sort of momentum killer, which the Texas debacle certainly was, that follows right up on a great 500.

Huston: Really, the racing may be some of the best out there as there’s been close finishes without the aid of the NASCAR ‘overtime’ system and without watching one team just dominate a series, like Mercedes in F1. It’s weird that the Indy 500 did so well but received such a strange reaction from the pundits. And then there’s the Boston debacle, which really has more to do with that city and its politics than it does IndyCar but canceling an event never looks good. The second half of the season looks promising, and for as good as Pagenaud has been, Scott Dixon isn’t all that far behind. And how did Will Power miss a race and get ahead of his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya in the standings? Wild.

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