Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Musings From Monday: Indianapolis 500 News

IndyCar announced some changes to Indianapolis 500 qualifying and we getting closer to finding out who will be attempting the 98th running of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Qualifying
IndyCar announced additional changes to Indianapolis 500 qualifying yesterday to allow for potential bumping on the final qualifying day.

The field will still be filled on Saturday with qualifiers setting the Fast Nine for Sunday and receiving points based on their time Saturday. However, should a team suffer "hardship" (IndyCar's word, not mine) on Saturday they will get a second chance on Sunday.

Teams that are not in the fastest 33 on Saturday along with any new entries must declare by 7:00 p.m. ET Saturday their intention to qualify on Sunday but any Sunday qualifiers will be limited to starting on the eleventh row.

At a glance:
Fast nine still happening.
10th-30th fastest from Saturday are locked into the field.
31st-33rd from Saturday could be bumped and any car that does not make the field Saturday or any new entries making a qualifying attempt.

Sunday qualifying schedule will go as follows:
Group one (determines positions 10th-30th): 10:15 a.m. ET to 12:15 p.m. ET.
Group two (determines row eleven): 12:45 p.m. ET to 1:30 p.m. ET.
Fast Nine: 2:00 p.m. ET to 2:45 p.m. ET.

Got that?

IndyCar really thinks this "enhances" (IndyCar's word, not mine) Indianapolis 500 qualifying? It causes more headaches with it's redundancy and lack of risk.

First off, stop using the word "enhance." It makes it sound like you gave Indianapolis 500 qualifying Viagra or Cialis or Extenze (by the way, is Kevin Conway going to be making an attempt?).

Second, let's run down this scenario:
Driver U qualifies 30th on Saturday and gets four bonus points.
Driver V qualifies 31st on Saturday and gets three bonus points.
Driver X qualifies 32nd on Saturday and gets two bonus points.
Driver Y puts it in the wall and his team is scrambling.
Driver W qualifies 33rd on Saturday and gets one bonus point.
Driver Z does not make an attempt but at 6:58 p.m. the team owner gives Derrick Walker or Beuax Barfield or some IndyCar official the heads up, "hey, we are going to give it a shot tomorrow."

Sunday comes.

Group one ends.

Driver Y along with Driver Z both bump their way into the field with times faster than Driver U who is in 30th and knock out Driver W and Driver X. Driver V is 33rd.

Driver X has put it into the wall trying make his way back in. Driver X is done.

Driver W qualifies and their time is faster than Driver Y, Z and U with Driver V bumped out of the field.

Driver V goes out and runs a time fastest than Driver U but not Driver W, Y or Z. Driver V doesn't make the field because Driver U is locked in for being in the top thirty on Saturday.

Gun sounds. Group two done. Breakdown of what just happened:

The final row features Driver W, Y and Z in that order and they have the 30th, 31st and 32nd fastest times.

Driver V was 33rd fastest but since they were not in the top thirty on Saturday and limited to starting on the last row, fails to make the race but as a consolation prize gets to keep the three points from Saturday.

Driver X is out after putting it into the wall but gets to keep the two points from Saturday as a consolation prize.

Driver U is 34th fastest and not only makes the Indianapolis 500 but starts 30th with four points to boot.

Like it or not that could happen.

Better yet is this juicy quote Derrick Walker gave us, "As our qualifying format evolves we continue to evaluate what is best for the competitors. We realized the need to provide teams that suffer an unexpected hardship on Saturday a second chance to make the Indianapolis 500. The changes apply primarily for cars that crash or suffer a mechanical failure during their Saturday qualifying run. Ultimately, we will capture the fastest 33 cars and that's who will make the race."

Here is what Walker is saying in this quote:

"As our qualifying format evolves we continue to evaluate what is best for the competitors.."

What Walker means: We are trying something new and have no idea if it is going to work.

"We realized the need to provide teams that suffer an unexpected hardship on Saturday a second chance to make the Indianapolis 500..."

What Walker means: Listen, this is for if a Penske or Ganassi car stuffs it in the wall on Saturday. Imagine if Kanaan repeats his 2010 pole day performance? Then the defending Indianapolis 500 winner is out of the race. You think Mr. Ganassi is going to be happy? What about Target? And I'm not going to be the one to tell them tough shit that their car failed to make the race. God forbid they accept the risks that come with making the Indianapolis 500.

Oh and imagine if it is Verizon golden-boy Will Power who puts it in the wall on Saturday!? How the fuck am I going to explain to Verizon that their car won't be in the Indianapolis 500? And then there is Mr. Penske who has been it that position before but he will be on my ass for the rest of 2014.

And Kurt Busch. Let's face it, the odds are really good he stuffs it in the wall on his qualifying attempt. Trust me, I asked the Old Scout and he's giving people 3-1 odds Busch stuffs it on his attempt. God forbid he gets back on a plane to Charlotte for an exhibition All-Star race with his tail between his legs and learns what it feels like to fail to qualify for something. He has already called me six times seeing if his past champions provisional carries over and called me after the Martinsville race to see if that win not only was enough to make the Indianapolis 500 but guarantees he would have a shot at the championship at Fontana season finale. What the hell is he thinking?

And this is also to prevent teams buying their way in. I have already had Martin Plowman call me worried sick he qualifies in the top half of the field but someone comes dangling a check in front of AJ and he ends up on the sidelines like Bruno Junqueira in 2011. The last thing we needs is that fiasco again especially to another hard-working driver who gets where he is on speed.

"The changes apply primarily for cars that crash or suffer mechanical failure during their Saturday qualifying run..."

What Walker means: Yeah, this is there in case Buddy Lazier tears a gearbox up or Michel Jourdain, Jr. finds a ride (if he does, we have a problem) but mostly it's to cover my own ass if things go to hell for Ganassi or Penske, especially that Verizon car.

"Ultimately, we will capture the 33 fastest cars and that's who will make the race."

What Walker means: About that, uh... we may have screwed the pooch on this one. Let's see how this goes but we may have 33 cars but not the 33 fastest cars. Hopefully that doesn't happen otherwise I will have some explaining to do.

Moving on.

I just don't see how these changes has made Indianapolis 500 qualifying better. I understand you want cars on track more but by making car qualify again and again and again is redundant. It's easier said than done but if you want to make qualifying better make sure 38-40 cars back an attempt. It's easy to say but in reality it's difficult with the lack of funds, team and crew members but telling the same drivers to qualify again and again and again isn't, in IndyCar's words "enhanced."

IndyCar needs to keep it simple stupid. Making everybody qualify twice and giving away points like they are condoms at Carnival in Rio is a waste. I understand many want qualifying to be an event that draws a crowd comparable to the other oval races on the schedule (25,000-30,000 people) and a decent TV rating but I don't think these changes or any changes would have been for the better.

Indianapolis 500 qualifying's problem hasn't been so much the format as it has been the amount of participants but you can't just make another dozen cars appear at the drop of a hat. However, if IndyCar wants to make Indianapolis 500 qualifying better for the long haul they are going to have to figure out a way to get another two or three full-time teams in IndyCar that can run an additional car for the Month of May and make it possible for Indy Lights teams, IMSA teams, hell even USAC teams to run a one-off and not have to close shop if it all goes to hell.

Moving on from qualifying because we could talk all day about it.

Entrants
Here is what we know: Take the 23 cars from Sunday at Long Beach and add Martin Plowman (24) for both Indianapolis races with Buddy Lazier (25), Jacques Villeneuve (26), Kurt Busch (27), JR Hildebrand (28) and Alex Tagliani (29).

Townsend Bell and KV confirmed their partnership and we are at 30th.

Ganassi is still pussyfooting running Sage Karam but it looks like that is close to happening (31).

Dreyer & Reinbold plan to run a car (32) and Davey Hamilton is the man who is running the second car out of D&R's shop (33).

Note: Davey Hamilton is NOT driving. Once again, Davey Hamilton is NOT driving. And a third time to get it through to everybody, Davey Hamilton is NOT driving. Hamilton is the car owner and someone else will be the driver. I am not sure what this means for his partnership with Sam Schmidt but we will worried about that later.

Then there is Stefan Wilson's super secret attempt to run for an Indianapolis-based team who remains nameless (34).

And finally Dale Coyne could run a third (35).

I know above I said Indianapolis 500 qualifying needs 38-40 but for this year, after having 33 cars enter the first year of the DW12 in 2012 and 34 in 2013, this is a step in the right direction. Cars, teams, interest and funding won't just appear over night but one step at a time and hopefully that next step in 2015 is just a little bit bigger.