Sunday, June 5, 2016

First Impressions: Belle Isle 2016 Race Two

1. We all waited for strategy to play out like it did yesterday. When it appeared drivers going off strategy were going to be sitting pretty, reality sang a different tune. Will Power won for the first time in over a year. It wasn't a dominating run. He made up ground on pit stops and passed Simon Pagenaud on the final restart to take the victory. Maybe this jump-starts a championship run for Power but he still has a lot of work to do and one of his teammates rarely stubs his toe on his own.

2. That teammate is Simon Pagenaud, who gets another podium, his sixth in eight races. This is Pagenaud's championship to lose with eight races to go. The Indianapolis 500 and yesterday's race were his two worst races and his closest championship competitors didn't cease those opportunities. How conservative will Pagenaud be? Can he afford to be conservative when Penske's track record in championship battles is very poor?

3. Ryan Hunter-Reay got back on the podium. Had it not been for contact with Townsend Bell on the pit lane in the Indianapolis 500, maybe we are looking at him as a championship contender. Last year, Hunter-Reay went on a late season run and finished sixth in the championship. He is in a much better position than he was this time last year but Hunter-Reay could only stay on the heels of the two Penskes and never challenged them.

4. Josef Newgarden recovered to finish fourth today. Considering how Newgarden raced last year, if he could win an oval or two and a road course and not have any finishes outside the top fifteen, Newgarden could challenge for the championship. He is fourth in the championship.

5. Scott Dixon hasn't lit the world on fire since the Phoenix-Long Beach swing but fifth place is a good finish. Unfortunately, Pagenaud continues to extend his championship lead over Dixon as Dixon trails by 80 points. The defending champion has made some late season surges but he may need a little help if he is to win his fifth IndyCar championship.

6. Conor Daly has finished in the top six in three of the last four races. If it wasn't for losing his fastest lap in qualifying, who knows, he might have won today's race. Ok, maybe he would have gotten another podium. If only Penske and Ganassi hired American drivers with personality. Daly is showing he belongs in IndyCar but will anyone give him a promotion. Dale Coyne Racing is a good team but Daly won't make a living there. He deserves more.

7. Tony Kanaan finished seventh. He went off strategy a little bit and then made a timely pit stop right before the caution came out for the stalled car of Jack Hawksworth. Kanaan has never been a great road/street circuit driver. His one hope for the championship is sweeping the three ovals of Texas, Iowa and Pocono and being in the back half of the top ten in the five road/street races.

8. Sébastien Bourdais had a great weekend. A win and an eighth. He went off strategy today and had to pit late for fuel only but eighth is a great showing.

9. Marco Andretti made about 15 pit stops today and finished ninth, his first top ten of the season. It's been a rough aero kit-era for Andretti. He still has a way to go. Maybe stealing a win on an oval could jump-start his season.

10. Takuma Sato finished tenth but was never a factor in this race.

11. Graham Rahal finished 11th and that is a great showing considering he had to pit coming to the green flag for a brake issue. He could have had a better result. Rahal has had a good season but he is still outside the top ten in the championship. Just goes to show how tight IndyCar is today.

12. Alexander Rossi finished 12th and is fifth in the championship. How long can he stay in the top ten? Texas should be interesting for Rossi. If Andretti can find some pace on road and street circuits I would not rule him out for a top ten finish in the championship. The rookie of the year honors is his to lose.

13. Rest of the field. Gabby Chaves had a good showing in 13th. Hélio Castroneves was bit by the Hawksworth caution and could only manage 14th. Carlos Muñoz was also bit by said caution and he was 15th. Charlie Kimball was on the same strategy as Bourdais, Rahal and Rossi but I think he took tires on his pit stop while the other three didn't and he finished 16th. Mikhail Aleshin had another great qualifying effort only to finish 17th. Spencer Pigot had a suspension failure and finished 18th. Pigot did well in both races despite the results. Jack Hawksworth can't catch a break. Juan Pablo Montoya continues to have poor results at Belle Isle. Just when it appeared James Hinchcliffe was going to be a contender for the title, he suffers a set back. Max Chilton is another driver that can't catch a break.

14. This was the final ABC race of the year. Thank goodness. Eddie Cheever is awful. He just babbles on thinking all dead air needs to be filled with nonsense. Allen Bestwick deserves better. Jon Beekhuis should be in the booth. Scott Goodyear should be on the pit lane. Bestwick and Beekhuis could work on there own. If ABC really needs to add a third (they don't) then get Dario Franchitti or get Paul Tracy (he won't do it. He likes his off weeks too much). Get anybody else.

15. On to Texas. I really like Texas now that the tires fall off and the drivers have to throttle the cars. Some miss pack racing but give me the spread out, unpredictable nature that Texas is now. Set up is more important now than ever. Look for a 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season first half review midweek.