Sunday, June 26, 2016

First Impressions: Road America 2016

1. Will Power dominated today and he teased us. He pitted after 12 laps on the first stint and a handful of drivers went a lap longer. It appeared He might have gotten the strategy wrong but he ran 14 laps on the next stint. He had to hold off a late charge from Tony Kanaan and now he finds himself third in the championship, 81 points behind Simon Pagenaud. Don't count Power out. Especially if he continues this form in the final seven races.

2. For a guy who hasn't won on a road/street circuit since 2007 and not on a permanent road course since 2005, Tony Kanaan made one hell of a run on Power late. He ran the fastest lap of the race on the penultimate lap but Power had the advantage as Kanaan was out of pushes to pass on the final lap while Power had three. Not a bad race from Kanaan.

3. Graham Rahal had another great run on a permanent road course as he finished 3rd. He went a lap longer than Power on the first stint but he couldn't leapfrog Tony Kanaan. Rahal is a quarter step behind the Penskes right now. He needs to find a way to make that up if he wants to challenge for a championship.

4. Ryan Hunter-Reay had the flu and finished fourth. He had to fight off Hélio Castroneves and pass Charlie Kimball for the position. He has a good season but not a great season. Good news for him is Iowa is next and he has won the last two at the short track.

5. Hélio Castroneves finished fifth and was penalized for blocking but the problem was he blocked Charlie Kimball, who was then passed by Hunter-Reay and the only punishment for Castroneves was giving up a position. If you want to get rid of blocking, penalize it with a stop and hold.

6. Charlie Kimball finished quietly in sixth. He kept his nose clean and got a good result. Maybe Kimball could steal a victory this season.

7. Juan Pablo Montoya finished seventh after starting 14th. After being the top horse in the Penske stable last year, he is the fourth best in 2016. That is life.

8. Josef Newgarden finished eight with a fractured right clavicle and fractured right hand. Not bad considering drivers of his age (Kyle Larson) miss races because of dehydration. He is still fifth in the championship and the hopes are still alive but he has a way to go.

9. Spencer Pigot wasn't mentioned much all day and finished ninth, his first career top ten finish. Pigot has been good this year. I wonder how well he would do with a full-time effort. He sure is proving he deserves one.

10. Carlos Muñoz rounded out the top ten. He wasn't really a factor in this race but it is another good result.

11. Jack Hawksworth finished 11th and Marco Andretti gained nine spots and finished 12th. Hawksworth is always great on Friday and this matches his best finish of the season but he needs to do better. Forgot to mention Hawksworth overcame a pit lane speeding penalty. Andretti also needs to do better, especially in qualifying. Maybe Iowa gets Andretti make on track.

12. Simon Pagenaud went from podium finisher to 13th in about three laps. Another engine bug bit him just like during the Indianapolis 500. His championship lead only shrunk by six points but he can't afford another issue because someone will bounce on it next time.

13. To round out the field: James Hinchcliffe struggled after starting 22nd and finished 14th. Alexander Rossi had to change his front wing and finished 15th. Mikhail Aleshin was mired in the middle of the pack all race. Takuma Sato got a pit lane speeding penalty after running in the top ten. Sébastien Boudais couldn't overcome a first-lap pit stop to replace the rear assembly. Gabby Chaves did nothing all day. Max Chilton ran out of fuel.

14. Conor Daly had a suspension failure cost him another top ten finish. Daly was running sixth most of the race and he is doing this with Dale Coyne Racing. He must be turning the heads of Penske and Ganassi, especially since Kanaan, Montoya and Castroneves are all north of 40. Scott Dixon had a brakes fire end his race after six laps. He was fortunate Pagenaud had his problem but one of these races, Dixon will need to capitalize on a misstep by Pagenaud.

15. Road America. Everyone saw the crowd this weekend and wondered why it took IndyCar so long to get back. I am glad they waited. This crowd wouldn't have been there in 2009 if Road America returned after a hiatus because of reunification. The same could be said if because of 2010 and 2011. Not necessarily because of the IR07 chassis but IndyCar didn't have any momentum. The DW12-era is the reason the crowd was as large as it was today. The close racing, abundance of winners and unpredictability drew fans out today. As much as we think IndyCar is making mistakes with the aero kits and though teams are struggling to keep the lights on, the series is in a better position than it was after the first season after reunification in 2008. I joked the additions of Phoenix, Road America and Watkins Glen finally made IndyCar look like a proper racing series but they are helping the appearance of IndyCar. Had IndyCar kept Fontana and Milwaukee, the schedule would be nirvana. The series is so close to elevating to a higher state.

16. A week off will be followed by Iowa. Iowa isn't a night race this year and it doesn't make much sense why it is in the middle of the afternoon but Iowa hasn't let anyone down other than year one. I am sure after Iowa we will be asking why IndyCar doesn't have another short track or two on the schedule.